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Immigration Reform, Not Just for Some but for All

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Washington D.C. -- April 16, 2013 marks an historic turning point in the journey towards comprehensive immigration reform and a more inclusive system of migration. The introduction of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 contains provisions that represent both improvements to the currently broken immigration system, as well as areas of significant concern for Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. We commend the Senate, and in particular, the Gang of Eight Senators for beginning this important conversation on immigration and immigrants' rights. AAPI LGBT communities are affected across the entire immigration system and addressing the complexities of this legislation is critical to achieving a fair and humane system -- changes we must see.

The provisions around a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. are an important step in the right direction, however we will continue to closely monitor the process called for in the legislation to ensure that these immigrants are brought out of the shadows. We will push for a process that is fair, realistic, and accessible. We ask: will individuals moving through that process have access to vital resources and programs? Approximately 1 in 10 of the 11 million undocumented population are AAPI and that the AAPI population constitutes an even higher proportion of the LGBT undocumented population at fifteen percent.

The provisions to eliminate the backlogs of family visas constitute another important feature of the bill that will help AAPI families reunite. Over 4.3 million people languish in these backlogs waiting to reunite with families in the U.S. The longest lines in the world created by these backlogs are formed by people from Asian countries. We are concerned, however, that the removal of important family categories that currently exist will prevent siblings and adult married children over the age of 30 from taking part, as well as the fact that same sex couples are not eligible for family reunification in this legislation. We stand strong in the conviction that families need to be kept together, LGBT and straight alike. This legislation must have an expansive definition of family that respects traditional family structures as well as truly reflect our diversity.

Provisions around workers are an essential part of the conversation. Again, the legislation includes both important protections and areas of concern. The bill includes increases for high skilled workers (such as H1B visa holders) and improvements for low skilled workers (including agricultural workers), as well as important worker protections and provisions allowing work authorization for spouses and children. Unfortunately, lingering questions remain about the
E-Verify program
to be mandated by the proposed legislation and which have potentially harmful pitfalls for transgender individuals. Student visas are another crucial category of non-immigrant visas. While some of the provisions around students in STEM fields (Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) will allow them a path to citizenship, students of every background, are an especially vulnerable population. LGBT student visa holders face particularly difficult choices between coming out and coming home.

Enforcement of immigration law have been particularly onerous; the proposed legislation provides some relief, but with caveats of consequence that require clarification. While some provisions, such as the elimination of the one-year deadline to file for asylum and improvements to the immigration courts are promising, we still need to monitor proposed improvements to detention facilities such as proposed alternatives to detention programs. One of the most contentious issues around enforcement concerns border security. While we have serious questions about priorities around border security that have been part of this compromise legislation, we look to provisions for the protections of civil rights that address racial profiling -- a particular concern for South Asian communities.

We recognize that this is the beginning of the legislative process for this bill, and welcome the opportunity to engage with lawmakers on the vital issues contained there. In turn, they must welcome that engagement. In the coming months, we at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance will continue to develop analysis of this bill and its implications for our communities. In the U.S., we are at a tipping point in regard to immigration reform. Every community needs to be activated and engaged in advocacy. Every Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI), every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individual and community and our allies must work together to vigilantly ensure that all are acknowledged and represented in this historic legislation.

Join us as we go forward!

Author, Ben de Guzman may be reached at: Bdeguzman@nqapia.org

Additional resources include:
http://naasurvey.com/reports/immigration2013.html
www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/01/31/170744897/for-asian-americans-immigration-backlogs-are-becoming-a-major-hurdle
http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/us-lgbt-immigrants-mar-2013/
http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5759.html