LGBT and HIV Equality Is at the Heart of Immigration Reform

Published: February 11, 2013

We often hear that our immigration system is broken. But too few people understand how this terribly broken system disproportionately harms many hardworking LGBT people and people living with HIV. As immigration reform comes to the forefront, proposals and plans aimed at repairing and overhauling the immigration system must include critically important protections needed by millions of hardworking Americans, including LGBT and HIV-affected people.

Reinforcing family unity has long been a fundamental tenet of sound immigration policy: Family unity and the support networks it engenders contribute to a stable community and healthy society. Accordingly, immigration law has long recognized that a U.S. citizen’s foreign-born spouse should be granted immigration protection and relief. Without such immigration relief, families can be ruthlessly torn apart. Far too many people in the LGBT community are enduring this nightmare because bi-national same-sex couples currently are denied these family unity protections. According to the Williams Institute, there are approximately 40,000 bi-national same-sex couples. Many of these families are raising children. Our current policy is tearing apart same-sex couples and their families. At Lambda Legal, we know this firsthand because we are fighting for the rights of these couples. This harm is discriminatory and wrong. Truly comprehensive immigration reform must promote family unity and equality by recognizing the rights of bi-national same-sex couples.

Immigration reform should also be informed by the experiences of LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants, who are especially vulnerable. Many transgender, gender-nonconforming and HIV-affected people flee to the U.S. after surviving rape, so-called “ex-gay therapy,” imprisonment, violence and other forms of persecution. Many of these victims depend on our asylum and immigration laws for protection and relief. At Lambda Legal, we know this firsthand because we are actively using asylum and immigration law to protect LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants. Yet many immigration officials do not have the training, expertise, cultural competency or sensitivity to address the needs of LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants.

Worse, while confined in immigration detention facilities awaiting asylum and immigration decisions, LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants are often denied access to lifesaving medical care, including hormone therapy and HIV medications. Immigration reform should reaffirm and strengthen asylum and refugee protections to ensure that our country is not forcibly deporting vulnerable victims to lands where they will be persecuted and tortured based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. We also need to ensure that immigration detention facilities are addressing the medical needs of especially vulnerable LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants.

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