Standing Side-By-Side for Comprehensive Reform

Johanna Vasquez was stopped by the police two years ago while waiting for a cab in Queens. Transgender and undocumented, Johanna was taken to an all-male detention center for a year where she was harassed and physically assaulted. With the help of legal services, Johanna successfully fought the charges against her and was not deported. She now has a permit to work in the US.

But the experience made Johanna realize that too many LGBT immigrants like her face similar situations. She joined Make the Road New York, an immigration advocacy organization, so she can fight for immigration reform for all immigrants, including at least 267,000 LGBT immigrants who face unique challenges because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation. Every day, 11 million undocumented immigrants are forced to live as second-class citizens, and 1,100 families are torn apart. Here in New York, this broken system is devastating our neighbors and friends.

The Senate recently passed –– by a wide 68-32 margin –– a bipartisan immigration reform bill that goes a long way in supporting these aspiring Americans. Now it’s time for the House of Representatives to act. America deserves a vote on immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship.

The LGBT community is standing side-by-side with our allies in the immigrant rights community to pass immigration reform because as a nation, we pride ourselves on keeping families united, and our immigration policies should reflect our commitment to keep families together –– all families. Too many LGBT immigrants are forced into two closets, one because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and the other because of their immigration status. It’s time for all immigrants, including at least 267,000 LGBT immigrants, to be able to come out of the shadows.

The Senate’s bill includes many provisions that will particularly benefit LGBT immigrants, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum; improving the conditions for people like Johanna who are held in detention facilities; and limiting the use of solitary confinement and prohibiting the use of this practice based solely on a detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity. While the Senate’s bill is not perfect and includes needlessly harsh border security provisions, it’s the best chance in our generation to provide a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans.

Americans overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Poll after poll demonstrates that regardless of party affiliation, demographics, or geography, Americans want their elected officials to fix the country’s broken immigration system.

The House GOP stands between 11 million immigrants and their chance at citizenship and the American Dream. We must hold our members of Congress accountable and tell the House that now is the time to act. No more posturing, no more piecemeal provisions, no more extremist amendments that aim to undermine all the progress that both parties have made.

It’s time to move beyond excuses and get to a vote in the House of Representatives to fix our broken immigration system once and for all. It’s time for the House to introduce serious legislation that reflects the will of the country –– to give 11 million men, women, and children the chance to come out of the shadows and have a clear and direct path to citizenship.

We will continue our work to ensure the final legislation is in the best interest of all immigrants and the LGBT community. Immigrants like Johanna should not be dehumanized and vilified because of their dual status as undocumented and LGBT members of our community.

Karina Claudio Betancourt is the lead organizer at Make the Road New York. Nathan Schaefer is the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.