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Not Just an 'Issue' -- Invisibility in the Immigration Debate Hurts Real People

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On May 1, I participated in a huge LGBTQ contingent in a march for immigration reform and workers' rights in honor of International Workers' Day, more commonly known as May Day. People around the world marched for workers to be treated with respect and dignity, and in many cities throughout the U.S. people also marched for a fair and humane immigration reform.

I'm a very introspective person, so naturally the march got me thinking about a lot of things. But above all, it made me think about the world I want to live in, and how much change is needed to make that a reality.

At GLAAD we join other LGBT, labor, civil rights and immigrant groups and advocates in calling for a fair and humane immigration reform. But while the proposed bills have no doubt included some good things, there are too many aspects that are rather unjust and frankly draconian. Among these are harsh immigration enforcement policies, as well as unrealistic barriers to citizenship that would leave behind many immigrants, including day laborers, domestic workers, caretakers, and many LGBT people who are out of work due to discrimination or who are made more vulnerable as a consequence of their identities.

At the May Day march I thought about how many people are completely unaware about what's going on, despite the important grassroots public education efforts on immigration that advocates have been doing for years. And I thought "What else do we need? How can we change that?"

Well for starters, I get where many people are coming from. Last week I wrote about how I went from being unsympathetic to becoming an advocate for immigrants. The media's negative portrayals of LGBT, Latinos, and immigrants made it incredibly challenging for me to fully accept myself as the gay Latino son of immigrants (one of whom lived as undocumented for a few years). I also internalized misinformation and misconceptions on immigrants. What finally changed that was hearing the moving story of an undocumented person (and many others who have bravely told their stories and made tremendous sacrifices to raise awareness on the current immigration system's injustices), and it began my process of questioning and undoing my misconceptions and prejudices.

And I am very sure that this is what we as Americans need: to learn about the harms of the current immigration system, so we can form educated conclusions, and so that Congress does the right thing.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants (approximately 267,000 of whom are LGBT) living in the U.S. This matters to them. This also matters to those of us who are LGBT U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, who have mothers, fathers, grandparents, partners, spouses, and friends who are undocumented.

Media should stop distracting Americans with coverage about the political games being played around immigration reform, which reduces it to simply an "issue" and as a result divorces it from the people whose lives hang in the balance. We need media to educate around the parts of the proposed bill that will continue to criminalize and discriminate against many immigrants, and to tell the stories of actual undocumented immigrants who are affected by the current unjust and harsh immigration system.

Like the stories of the at least 5,100 children who are currently in foster care because their parents were detained or deported. Or the nearly 400,000 people who are deported each year; and the 34,000 individuals put in immigration detention daily, 84% of whom lack legal representation and can be held for months, sometimes years, in squalid conditions.

Or the stories of transgender immigrants like 23-year-old Victoria Arellano, who died in 2007 in a detention facility after being denied medical attention and HIV medication. Immigration authorities also denied her gender identity and put her in an overcrowded men's facility; and while Victoria's fellow inmates took care of her and after her death collectively sent her mother $245, many transgender women placed in men's facilities endure verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

Or gay couples like Eric Manríquez and Juan Rivera, who married in California before Prop 8, but because of DOMA and federal immigration laws, even as a U.S. citizen Eric can't sponsor his undocumented spouse Juan.

It is time for us as Americans to start asking questions about how we can make this country better for all. The time is now to enact a fair and humane immigration reform.