Comprehensive Immigration Reform & Ensuring That we Are Fighting for Everyone

Rev. Jason Lydon
TRT Columnist
Rev. Jason Lydon  TRT Columnist

Rev. Jason Lydon
TRT Columnist

By: Jason Lydon*/TRT Columnist–

The national newspapers, Internet blogs and every television news program are all covering the political dialogue on “comprehensive immigration reform.” Questions range from issues of incarceration (incorrectly called detention), drones at the Mexico border, pathways to citizenship, DREAM Act eligible youth, family unification, “good” vs. “bad” immigrants, Secure Communities initiative and so much more. Comprehensive immigration reform has created a reputation of being a catch-all phrase for solving all the problems with immigration in the United States. I would encourage readers to keep a few of the following things in mind when you hear about immigration reform and consider where we as LGBTQ people need to direct our attention.

One of the pieces that continues to be completely ignored is the role of Free Trade Agreements in causing immigration. Due to policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, Central American Free Trade Agreement and the growing Trans Pacific Partnership, we are watching corporations and capital travel across borders with no regulation. The U.S. controlled World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund enforce regulations on countries that force them to cut social programs in order to meet the “structural adjustment” requirements mandated for loans and financial support. During his State of the Union speech, President Obama reiterated his commitment to immigration reform, while in the same speech pushing for a finalized agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership. While claiming to be supporting the needs of immigrants on the one hand, President Obama continues to push forward policies that force people to flee their home countries to try to find work. Any immigration reform that does not include a critical reflection on the role of globalized capitalism is a false solution.

I had the pleasure of attending an event organized by a coalition of Asian/Pacific Islander, API, organizations on March 21st at MAP for Health in Boston on the impact of immigration on LGBTQ API communities. There were around 40 people in attendance, many of whom were youth. The co-director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), Ben de Guzman, was one of the speakers that evening. In a recent Huffington Post article, de Guzman wrote a reflection on a study examining the realities of LGBT immigrants. In the article he states, “Some of the key findings reveal that the actual number of LGBT undocumented people in the U.S. are disproportionately younger and Asian than the overall undocumented population. The percentage of Asian, LGBT undocumented immigrants is significantly larger than that of our straight counterparts. We are 15 percent of the LGBT undocumented immigrant population, as opposed to 11 percent of all undocumented immigrants.”

The work of NQAPIA is an important reminder that while Latin@ people are constantly the public face of immigration, our approach to justice needs to acknowledge the realities of all immigrants. During the event, de Guzman told attendees that 60 percent of API people in the United States are foreign born. He also reminded attendees that as people are fighting for the Uniting American Families Act, inclusive of same-sex partners, we all must remember to keep the inclusion of siblings and adult children as sponsors for citizenship. Mainstream LGBT groups need to work in coalition and listen to the needs of all LGBTQ people impacted by immigration so as not to fight for some at the expense of others.  [pullquote]We must stop the president from allowing drones to surveil the border of Mexico. We need to have a conversation about white supremacy. [/pullquote]

The conversation around “enforcement” begs a much larger question of who, how and why people are being targeted for arrest, harassment, violence and deportation. An immediate moratorium on deportations is a moral requirement for any authentic immigration justice to be possible. Private corporations must be removed from the conversation, specifically the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, as they continue to be financially invested in locking people up. We must stop the president from allowing drones to surveil the border of Mexico. We need to have a conversation about white supremacy. The long list of anti-immigrant legislation in the United States began with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, included the racist named Operation Wetback in 1954 under President Eisenhower to attack Mexican immigrants, and continues today fueled by white power structures’ intention to maintain power and domination.

As we engage this debate as LGBTQ people, let us remember that we need not secure our own goals at the expense of other people. We also need not allow certain gay power players to define our strategies for victory. Get your voice in the dialogue and help us all toward a victory that celebrates amnesty rather than demonizes it.

*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Boston. He is a long time anti-prison organizer and founder of Black & Pink, an LGBTQ-focused effort working toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Jason is also an avid lover of famous people and blockbuster action flicks. You can reach Jason at


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