by Erik Schnabel
I have been involved in Out4Immigration as a volunteer grassroots organizer for much of the last year. My motivation is to help change the current situation that my partner and I find ourselves in because of the unfair immigration system that currently exists. If we were in a heterosexual relationship our immigration issues would be easily solved by getting married and having our relationship federally recognized. But because our immigration system is broken, we remain "legal strangers" in the eyes of the US government. I volunteer with Out4Immigration to see if we can pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), either as a stand alone bill or as part of the current efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill. This legislation would give me and my partner the same rights as an opposite-sex binational couple.
Several months ago, I heard about local efforts in San Francisco to bring together a coalition of immigrant rights groups to work for CIR. I began to attend meetings of the San Francisco Bay Area for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (SFBCIR), a group of immigrant rights advocates representing many diverse communities. While the organizations that made up the coalition were very supportive and open to Out4Immigration being involved, many were not aware of the issues of LGBT immigrants and same-sex binational couples. After several weeks of attending and helping to educate the groups about UAFA and what we were working on, they began to embrace our issues as well. Since then they have come around to supporting passage of UAFA and making sure that it is included in CIR, and helping to make sure it is discussed in every action we are involved in.
I was excited when SFBCIR asked O4I to participate in a national lobbying day in DC through the national efforts of Reform Immigration for America (RIFA), a nationwide effort to pass immigration reform. Through the work of RIFA, an effort was made to bring 1,100 (representing the number of people deported every day) civic leaders to DC push for immigration reform. This national effort called Relief, Reform, and Respect was an effort to make national congressional leaders understand the true human impact of our broken immigration system, and to call for a stop to the racist scapegoating that has gone on for too long, while pushing for immediate action.
Yet while the local coalition has embraced the issues of LGBT immigrants, I found a much harder sell with the national groups. Because national groups are desperately trying to bring in moderates and faith leaders, including the US Catholic Conference of Bishops and national evangelical leaders who have said they will not support a CIR bill that is inclusive of LGBT families, I quickly found that we could not publicly as a group push for the passage of UAFA. But we didn’t give up easily, and I quickly got reassurance for the local leaders that they would help to push UAFA where they could. All of the organizations expressed their personal support for including LGBT families, and many have individually endorsed these efforts. They have however found themselves constrained because of keeping together the larger coalition that is needed to push obstructionist Republican maneuvers on immigration reform.
I knew going to DC would be hard because of the difficult questions that would have to be raised and the frustration of trying to push legislation that not everyone agrees with. But I knew there we enough people committed to work on this that any efforts would be productive. Along the way, I was able to connect with Immigration Equality, who expressed interest in getting involved with efforts as well and who helped us strategize and to work on our efforts. In addition, we gained more allies along the way because of the participation of San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who is an openly gay Latino man who came to the US as an undocumented immigrant and who has become a strong spokesperson for the rights of LGBT people and immigrants. We also had the support of an Episcopal priest who is himself in a binational relationship. Our testimonies and persistence were so powerful that we kept finding strong supporters and unlikely allies.
With RIFA leading the movement for CIR right now we have had some issues about pushing UAFA and inclusive CIR as part of their work. But it was really great being there and talking with national leaders of RIFA about the importance of including UAFA as part of inclusive CIR. I came bearing letters for all the Board members of RIFA coalition about this, and received good responses from many. Many RIFA organizations have endorsed UAFA and inclusive CIR but not all. And I did get commitments from many RIFA Board members to make sure to help push UAFA resolutions and try to get more commitments on this.
I'm feeling really hopeful and it would be great if more people want to help push these organizations to embrace UAFA. If you want to help me do this, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(To read more about Erik's visit to DC - including his encounter with one of our strongest allies in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), please click here.)