by Kathy Drasky
Note: Juan Carlos Galan is a member of Out4Immigration and lives in Miami. Out4Immigration believes in the power of our personal stories and opinions on LGBT immigration rights and how the lack of these rights affects our lives. The more we tell our stories, the more allies we get and the more our cause -- support for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and its inclusion in the Reuniting Families Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform builds. This is Juan Carlos' story:
I am privileged enough to see my life through the lens of a gay man and an immigrant!
I left the small town where I grew up in Latin America when I was only 17 years old. After growing up in an ultra conservative family and going to private Catholic school all my life, I could not have been more excited to move the United States. I was happy because I always admired the extremely high value that Americans place on equality and freedom, and I could not wait to live my life freely as a gay man in the United States.
After finishing my undergraduate education in the United States, I decided to go for my Masters thinking it would increase my chances of finding a more competitive job that would sponsor me for immigration purposes after my student visa expired. During this job search process I realized how broken the immigration system is in this country. It became nearly impossible to find an employer who would be willing to apply for a work visa on my behalf.
The very limited routes to become legal in the United States are not realistic, affordable, and accessible; I am one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, approximately 12 million illegal immigrants can't say the same. It is obvious that the problem is not illegal immigration; the problem is the outdated, unrealistic, immoral, and broken system. Immigration to this country encourages the exploitation of undocumented workers by underpaying and marginalizing them without providing any routes towards becoming legal. Once you are illegal, your only option to get a green card is to get married... if you are straight.
After graduating from my Masters program I started working full time, and I was granted a work visa, which is only valid for 6 years and contingent upon never being unemployed (i.e., I can't get fired, I can't quit, I can't change jobs within the company). I was extremely fortunate to meet the love of my life that year as well. We started planning our future as we moved in together. We want to save money, buy a house, travel, and plan a life together. If we were a straight couple, we could get married and he could sponsor me for citizenship, but because we are a gay couple, we do not have that right.
Even if we were to get married in any of the six states that recognize same-sex marriage, he would not be able to sponsor me because immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, and the (so-called) Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. We live in a constant legal limbo because of the expiration date on my work visa. My work permit might have an expiration date, but my love for my partner does not.
This shows how archaic the US immigration system is. Nineteen other countries, including much of Western Europe and Canada, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, and Australia amongst others, allow nationals to sponsor same-sex partners for citizenship. It's been reported that there are about 36,000 binational same-sex couples in the US (I suspect there are even more because some might want to stay uncounted because of illegal status). These couples are torn apart or forced to live in exile or illegally. Also, they are not the only ones being affected. This impacts their children, parents, brothers, sisters, and the community at large that is forced to be away from their loved ones. I can imagine that many GLBTQ Floridians are affected by this, considering the high immigrant population in our Sunshine State.
How can we fix this? By getting angry! I am angry! You should be angry too! We should all be angry! And we should channel this anger towards getting involved with organizations such as Out4Immigration and Immigration Equality. Out4Immigration is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that raises awareness about the need for equal immigration rights for same-sex binational couples and their families. Immigration Equality has the power to lobby our elected represesentatives in Washington DC to pass legislation like the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that will end immigration discrimination against same-sex binational couples and provide all Americans with equal immigration rights.
The UAFA has been introduced in Congress every term since 1999. Each time it gains a lot of co-sponsors, but it never gets to a vote. How long are we going to have to wait for it to pass? That is up to you!
Contact your representatives in Congress and tell them how you feel! Tell them to pass UAFA! Tell them to include LGBT families in immigration reform! Tell them to repeal DOMA! You have a voice in the legislative process. Use it! Tell your family about it, talk to your community, let people know about this issue and how it affects you or your friends!
The US government should not prevent my partner and I from building a life together. This is a basic right that every citizen should enjoy. After all, I came to this country because of the high value it places on equality and freedom.
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