by Kathy Drasky
By now most of you fighting in the trenches here for equal immigration rights for all Americans and our families have probably had time to recover from the sting of Rep. Jackie Speier's comments in the Bay Area Reporter story by Matthew Bajko last week.
The story, "Political Notebook: Speier Confident that ENDA Will Pass" carried a hefty dose of no-hope for those of us fighting for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). In the article Rep. Speier's comments are summarized as saying that the UAFA has no chance of being passed. This is our friend Jackie Speier (D-CA) speaking here - not Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Speier, who was instrumental in the private bill secured earlier this year for Shirley Tan, went on to say that the best hope for same-sex binational couples completely out of legal options to stay in the US was to get a private bill introduced in Congress to keep them together here. Her rationale for why the UAFA won't get the same air-time in Congress is that other issues like ENDA, DADT and repeal of DOMA are taking precedence, and she doesn't think Congress "has had the opportunity to explore this issue as intensely as it needs to happen."
Okay - folks. That's our wake up call. In spite of our elevation of this issue to mainstream front page news this year - on CNN.com, in the Washington Post, in People magazine - our massive letter writing efforts that have urged some 115 members of Congress and 20 U.S. Senators to co-sponsor the UAFA and led to the first-ever Senate hearings on the bill, and the collective efforts to every one of us out there with a computer and an Internet connection to blog, start online petitions, post personal videos and re-circulate this information through numerous social media channels - Congress has not had the opportunity to explore this issue as intensely as it needs to? Let's change that. Here's how:
1) Keep at the letter writing. Put aside the time needed each week and email Congressional staffers, make phone calls and send your letters via snail mail and FAX to the addresses provided. Whenever possible, make the letters personal. Include photos, tell the people you are writing to about your family and why you feel as an American citizen or permanent resident that your country is discriminating against you.
2) Call a reporter at your local newspaper, radio station or TV station and tell them about the discrimination American citizens are facing under US immigration law - perhaps nowhere is our system more dysfunctional than in the way it treats LGBT families. Do you need talking points or a strategy for how to make contact and connect? Contact the O4I Communications Director Kathy Drasky at firstname.lastname@example.org
3) Make an appointment to meet with your Congressional rep and Senators in person next month (August) when many of them are in their home offices. Even if your Rep has already signed on to the UAFA, make this a thank you visit and a chance to ask him/her to approach their colleagues and get their support. Ask for their advice on how we can get the UAFA passed this session of Congress and then share it with Out4Immigration. If you cannot get a meeting with your Representative, get one with a staffer who handles the Rep's LGBT, civil rights and/or immigration affairs. Bring with you to this meeting:
a) 5-10 copies of the Out4Immigration trifold brochure available for download at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/out4immigration/files/o4i_trifold_Eng.pdf. Print this on 20-lb paper, preferably green paper, to symbolize the "green card".
b) Any recent stories about the UAFA from the newspaper or online that you can print out. Highlight with a marker the key passages in the stories that underscore why lack of LGBT immigration rights is "gratuituous cruelty".
c) Your story - this is imperative. Melanie Nathan has created guidelines for preparing your own personal booklet to hand deliver to your Rep's office. Melanie says include "pictures of you and your partner, extended family, a letter setting out your personal case and circumstances, countries etc. Then go to Kinkos and bind it. Make it look good. Does not have to be lengthy; Get family, church, work letters of support. If you do community work mention same. Include your education and resume. Letters from family. Make 4 copies. Keep 3. Take one directly to the office of your congress representative, Make an appointment - and whether friendly or not ensure you speak directly to your member of congress or a close staffer. DO NOT MAIL - it must be hand delivered by you. Ask your Rep if they support UAFA and if not why not. Offer to help them get a better understanding of it. After that do the same with one of your State Senators. Less likely to get appointment but introduce yourself to a staffer and have it delivered. If you want more guidance write Melanie Nathan at email@example.com
4) Contact your state and local elected officials, community groups [other LGBT groups like PFLAG and community centers, immigrant rights' groups, places of worship, universities, legal aid] and ask them if they can help you. Tell them you are struggling with US immigration law and why. Reach out to your community by marching in parades (not just gay parades, btw, but labor marches and rallies for immigrant rights). Every time we take to the streets we meet more same-sex binational couples who join our forces. So get out there - and if you need community outreach advice, please contact Amos Lim at Out4Immigration who has done so much to raise awareness about the need for the Uniting American Families Act. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope these steps reinforce your belief that there is hope for the Uniting American Families Act. The key here is your involvement. Put a face on this issue for those who need "the opportunity to explore this issue as intensely as it needs to happen." Don't let a day go by when you do not do one small thing to advance this cause. And you know what - things will change because of that.