Yasmin Nair

Queers and Immigration Reform: Where Do We Stand?

Filed By Yasmin Nair | January 10, 2008 5:24 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics
Tags: Immigration Reform, Permanent Partnerships, same-sex couples, UAFA, Uniting American Families Act, visa

On January 8, The Washington Times reported that Mike Huckabee supported amending the constitution so that children born in the US to “illegal aliens” could not automatically become American citizens. On January 9, the same paper reported Huckabee’s denial that he supported any such measure .

Those of us who identify as Liberal, Progressive, or Left might be tempted to dismiss this as the usual blather from the Right. We consider ourselves infinitely superior on the topic of humane immigration laws. But what do we really understand as substantive and significant immigration reform? On January 21, 2009, immigration will once again become a divisive issue. Where will queers stand in relation to the immigration reform movement? Where will the immigration reform movement stand in relation to the queer community?

Why are the interests of the two groups seen as incommensurable with each other?

When it comes to immigration, a lot of queer energy is being spent on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which benefits bi-national couples (where one partner is a citizen/permanent resident and the other a foreign national). The UAFA would make it possible for U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex “permanent partners” for immigration, something that straights can already do. Groups like HRC and Immigration Equality have decided that UAFA is the single most important piece of immigration legislation that matters to queers. But what’re the real issues in immigration? And why is that the queer community and queer organisers aren’t motivated to act on immigration reform except when it comes to the narrow self-interest of queers? Who benefits from the UAFA? More importantly: Who suffers?

As I’ve written in this week’s Windy City Times, in a piece on changing the paradigms of queer immigration and in previous articles on marriage and immigration and the UAFA, the immigration crisis is about labour. We want cheap and easily exploited labour to bring us our cheap and plentiful orange juice and we also want the “right kind” of immigrants -- those who’re “qualified” and able to become “contributing citizens.” As if immigrant day labourers, for instance, are nothing but cankers on society, waiting in the wings to “take American jobs” from hard-working citizens. The UAFA isolates queers from the workforce – defining queers as simply “permanent partners” in “committed relationships,” as if queers aren't ever workers in any capacity and can only be reduced to their roles as mates for life. But if we’re being asked, as a community, to mobilise around this “cause,” we ought to ask how it connects to larger immigration reform.

The UAFA is mired in the concept of “family reunification,” the idea that people should be able to sponsor their spouses/partners and children for immigration. But, as Eithne Luibhéid shows in her revealing book, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border, family reunification has always been about exclusion, not inclusion. It has always privileged particular types of families (heteropatriarchal, with the father determined as the bread-winner); has kept out specific ethnic groups ("Asiatics" as opposed to Europeans); and controlled women’s sexuality (female spouses were closely examined for any signs of moral deviation and fixed in their roles as wives). Family reunification law requires that the sponsoring partner can support dependents at 125% above the mandated poverty line. That cuts a lot of people out of the picture. And families considered undesirable are treated as less than human. Consider, for instance, this Counterpunch report about the euphemistically named T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, where nearly 200 children of immigrants awaiting deportation hearings are forced to live in subhuman conditions with the threat of separation from their parents.

Many binational couples live in anxiety and spend a lot of their scarce resources devising ways to stay with their partners; not all of them have the money and resource to fly back and forth between countries. But stories like the one about the Pfizer executive living with his Brazilian partner in London reinforce the idea of class privilege and mobility. These people, we’re implicitly reassured, are good and stable, the kind we’d want living next door to us. The UAFA would not help undocumented couples, or even the undocumented partners of citizens.

And then there’s the dramatic language used by so many proponents of UAFA, about “going into exile” or, even more contradictorily, “self-exile.” Yeah. Right. Pablo Neruda. Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And some guy who’s able to relocate to Toronto to be with his partner. You’re forced into exile, a political condition, when your life is in danger. Relocating and/or moving between two countries can be difficult and taxing but that, my friends, is not exile. That’s mobility.

And what does the privilege of sponsorship really mean for straight people, especially women whose dependence on their husbands’ sponsorship leaves them vulnerable to spousal abuse? What about people like Aalimah, a lesbian trapped in a heterosexual marriage who's trying to get out of a desperate situation? H-4 status, which is what you get as a dependent spouse, means that you don’t get a social security number and can’t apply for jobs. The Hindu has reported on the widespread abuse of women on H-4 visas, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think that queers are incapable of such abuse. And then, of course, there’s the fact that H1-B visa holders are themselves prone to exploitation by their employers, who can force them to endure terrible working conditions under threat of cancelling their visas. All of which is to say that family reunification/partner sponsorship does nothing to get at the underlying problems with immigration legislation.

Given its troubling history, it’s time for the Left to rethink our support for family reunification. And for queers to question the UAFA. The Right has dubbed family reunification “chain migration” in order to play on our worst fears about hordes of invading “aliens.” But the fact that the Right is against something does not mean that the Left needs to automatically support it (the Left, has, in recent years, mostly defined itself in response to the Right. As opposed to devising a truly Left agenda. But I digress; that’s a post for another day.)

Queer organising used to be dismantling economic structures of privilege and redefining structures of kinship in ways that straights have since embraced. Somewhere along the way, we – or rather, the increasingly powerful gay organisations that speak for us and articulate “our” agenda – have decided that we want to expand, not destroy, privilege. Instead of fighting for basic rights for everyone.

So what do we support, as queers and as people who’d like to see real immigration reform? Being critical of the UAFA isn’t about hostility towards binational couples but about questioning the value of organising around a concept and legislation that does nothing to change or even shift the problematic paradigms around which immigration legislation is built. In my article, I ask readers to question their gay groups about their long-term support for immigration reform. But do I really believe that we should depend on them, or that they’ll actually adhere to any promises they might make about a long-term commitment to the issue, once the UAFA is passed? No. The solution lies not with gay groups but with queers figuring out and asking hard questions of ourselves. The ENDA fracas showed us that it’s dangerous to let a major gay organisation like HRC establish itself as the voice of the community. When it comes to immigration reform and to politics in general, we queers have so far tended to substitute affect for any substantive call for economic and political change. We have depoliticised politics.

If we remove affect from immigration reform, it becomes clear that concepts like “family” and “permanent partnership” only distract us from the real issue of exploited labour and the privileging of certain classes of people (doctors and lawyers over day workers). But consider what would happen if we demanded something as simple as dropping the dependency requirements and enabling spouses/partners to come here as people with economic rights – such as applying for jobs and getting social security numbers. That alone would mean looking at everyone, not just “workers,” as self-sustaining individuals with rights, not as dependents. Now consider allowing undocumented people without families, who don’t want to get married in order to stay, to petition for themselves as self-sustaining workers. That, along with reform of the labour laws so that workers, whether day workers or H1-Bs, aren’t exploited, is no more complicated or onerous than the current system of sponsorship. Defining immigrants as people with economic rights instead of as dependents would make for fairness. And that, not marriage and not “permanent partnerships,” is what truly gives immigrants, straight and queer, the same rights as citizens. In contrast, the UAFA threatens to take us back fifty years, to a time of social relationships defined by dependency.

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Bill Perdue | January 10, 2008 8:40 PM

First we have to defuse opposition to imported and immigrant labor by supporting the efforts of Change to Win and AFL-CIO to organize the unorganized and provide them with decent wages and benefits.

That would mean battling for tripling or quadrupling the minimum wage and guaranteeing everyone decent housing, schooling, protection from criminals and socialized medicine. It would mean guaranteed sick pay and paid maternity leave, a month’s vacation and the 30 hour work week. These are all remarkably reasonable proposals that would quickly solve the problem. However the fight for them will create deep fissures in US politics. Actually, it’s already begun to do just that.

GLBT folk in unions should raise these questions in their locals and getting resolutions passed. We also want unions to get involved in combating the vigilantism of groups like BorderWatch. (I learned as a young man in Berkeley in the 60’s and 70’s that there’s nothing like having antiwar picket signs tacked onto two by fours in the hands of teamsters and longshore workers to make righting wingers rethink their options.) We should pay particular attention to the plight of GLBT people who are threatened with deportation to nations where they’ll be murdered or endangered. Unions should petition Congress to declare the US a haven for GLBT folk from countries that endanger them.

We have to insist that immigrant and imported workers have the same rights as working people born in the US. When the Clintons, with Democratic (sic) and Republican support instituted NAFTA and CAFTA they began the process of devastating the economies of Mexico and Central American and lowering the standard of living of US and Canadian workers through massive export of jobs. The results are what they wanted – fewer union jobs and a mass migration away from the poverty and environmental disasters of NAFTA. If immigrants want drivers licenses, citizenship and decent living conditions the civilized thing is to support that.

GLBT folk and unionists should do our best to make sure that immigrant-imported workers and US born workers have good wages, working conditions and benefits and all the rights guaranteed by the US law and particularly the Bill of Rights.

Why are the interests of the two groups seen as incommensurable with each other?

I don't think they are at all!

There are lots of queers working on issues like immigration rights (not just UAFA), labor, the environment, etc., etc.

I think that the privatization of identity has resulted in this view that the only queers out there are those at HRC, etc., and that view is aided not just by those organizations, but also by well-intentioned critics who will say things like "gays don't support X, Y, or Z, and I know this because HRC doesn't."

I think that's related to this:

Queer organising used to be dismantling economic structures of privilege and redefining structures of kinship in ways that straights have since embraced.

Maybe I run in strange circles (that's a bad way of expressing that idea, but I still like it!), but the queers I know are generally much better than their straight counterparts at recognizing that love is more complicated than finding one partner for life, that concepts like "children first" and "pro-family" are often deployed as fronts for protecting privilege, and that one's chosen family will often be much more supportive than one's genetic family.

The point of this isn't to nit-pick. I just don't see how a minor change like UAFA is mutually exclusive to more substantive immigration reform. Sure, HRC doesn't support the latter, but we could fill up a lake with all the things that would help queer people that HRC doesn't support.

I don't think that UAFA would count as a "distraction", even, to substantive immigration reform. I have never known anyone who would otherwise be supportive of health care to all immigrants, for example, say that that reform has to take a back-seat to UAFA. Perhaps my experiences are unique.

Bill, I couldn't agree more, and thanks for posting your thoughts.

Alex, in my experience the UAFA *can* become a distraction to substantive immigration reform. As I explained in my piece, and the others that I reference, any legislation that fosters archaic forms of dependency cannot be a good alternative. I think this is where it's especially important to consider the terrible experiences of people on dependent spousal visas.

And my experience with a lot of people over the Queers and Immigration Vision Statement, which I've written about, and in everyday organising has been that yes, unfortunately, a lot of queers do feel that every other kind of reform should take a back seat to UAFA. The other element in all of this the kind of money that goes into supporting the UAFA. I will say this: Once the critique is raised, it's often welcomed by a lot of people but it's still hard going to get the alternative message out there.

You write about the queers you know, who're critical of normative family structures. We may run in at least similar circles - because the queers I know are the same. Although I happen to know just as many, if not more, straights who inhabit alternative family structures - even when they're married.

But the question isn't about how the individuals we know might respond to these issues, because we could argue on those lines for ever and not achieve a lot. Ultimately, being in an alternative family structure has nothing to do with whether or not you have a radical vision of what counts as rights and reform, but that's getting away from the immediate issue here. The problem we face is with how the queer community's collective response to issues like UAFA (and gay marriage) gets channelled via mainstream groups like HRC as well as supposedly more progressive gay groups like NGLTF and Immigration Equality. That's not the same thing as saying that queers *are* the same as HRC et al. To repeat my sentence from the entry: "Groups like HRC and Immigration Equality have decided that UAFA is the single most important piece of immigration legislation that matters to queers."

The problem is with what then gets *funded* as a result of gay groups organising on specific issues; what gets pushed through as legislation based on what the queer "community" is seen as wanting; and what the gay and straight press too often picks up and disseminates as "progressive queer politics." As much as we'd like to think of our queer media outlets as somehow unlike the mainstream press the truth is that, with exceptions, queer media is just as guilty of homogeneity and as prone to corporate consolidation. Which means, to put it bluntly, that queer media's interest doesn't lie in dismantling economic privilege but in reasserting the same.

I know from my own experience that the straight media is reluctant to articulate an alternative to what the gay groups present as queer causes. As for the queer media, which is supposed to represent "our voices" at the grassroots level? Let me know when you find anything that articulates an alternative to the kind of proposals seen in the UAFA, outside of the Windy City Times or The Guide. Does media representation matter? Yes. Why else is there this much attention paid to the UAFA and no critical appraisal of its isolation from immigration reform in general? I have no doubt that many queers don't support the UAFA's principles, just as many queers don't support gay marriage as the only alternative to health care. I hope that my posts and these conversations persuade them to act on their thoughts and tell the gay groups to stop funding this specious cause.

Substantive immigration reform needs to tackle the crisis as an economic one. As long as we perpetuate the fiction that the private lives of some immigrants are only "private" and somehow disconnected from systems of economic exploitation; and that these "private lives" somehow matter more than that of others; and as long as we refuse to acknowledge the fact that granting people their economic rights is of fundamental importance, we're not going anywhere towards change.

Where will queers stand in relation to the immigration reform movement? Where will the immigration reform movement stand in relation to the queer community?

#1 - For the most part, we'll remain shallowly centered on the issues that affect white and moderately wealthy queers - marriage and ENDA. Immigration? Well, if it gets some of the rich queers the ability to bring their Italian model husband-of-the-year to Miami for the right parties, well, then, maybe we'll consider it. But help those stinky, stupid, immigrant workers in blue collar jobs? Que horror!

#2 - For the most part, they'll remain shallowly centered on the issues that affect poor and desperate workers - supporting their families both here and in their home country and gaining legal status. Well, if it gets some of the poor Mexicans the ability to feed their families back home without actually having to change the situation in Mexico causing extreme poverty, well, then, maybe we'll consider it. But help those silly, lisping, buttsechs queers? No fucking way.

I've found that the group of folks most accepting of the LGBT community tend to have more education and trend from urban areas. Rural, uneducated laborers from a 3rd world country will probably not be ideal allies for the LGBT community. I think the Democrats would make better allies - and we know how they love us so much they have to beat us.

The whole freaking thing - from "legal" and "illegal" aliens to detention camps - smells.

Bill Perdue | January 11, 2008 7:50 PM


What you aptly described are the effects of divide and rule class, race, national and gaybashing bigoties. The US is a cesspool of bigotry but that will not always be the case.

The art of politics consists of deliberately and precisely applying added pressure to social fissures. In this case it means we have to go out of our way to support the economic and political needs of immigrant and imported workers. We have to visibly and loudly support full equality for them, keeping in mind the horrors most are fleeing from, which are not just economic.

I lived in LA and other cities in the southwest for years and it’s my (admittedly anecdotal and unscientific) opinion that there are at least as many GLBT immigrants as there are native born GLBT folk in LA, El Paso and Phoenix. VERY large numbers of GLBT folk flee priest infected countries for our more gay friendly society. Nor should anyone assume that immigrants are gay bashers although those infected with the deadly disease of religious homobigotry certainly are. Among youth raised and educated in the US opinions about GLBT issues are not those of their parents, but mirror the much friendlier views of the oncoming generation.

And as is always the case, if we support them we can ask them to support us. Those kinds of alliance building actions are all important because we really cannot depend on the twin parties for much except, as you say, the occasional whipping. I think we’re all getting very tried of that. Election psychosis (OMG!!!! – Huckabee’s gonna open the camps and fire up the ovens - only Hindenburg, Clinton, Obama etc can save us) will probably cloud some peoples thinking but after a year or so of the Democrats controlling the White House and Congress things will begin to “shake, rattle ‘n roll” as the Democrats constituents continue to move far to the left of contemptible sellouts like Pelosi, Edwards, Frank, Clinton, Obama and Feinstein.

Yasmin, if you have never been in the situation of these same sex binational couples, then you could not possibly imagine the pain. To say that having to leave your country to be with the person you love is simply mobility is like saying that it is no big deal if a person is fired for being gay because it is simply labor mobility, get another job. Yet the majority of the gay community supports ENDA. It is disappointing that the gay community has not back the UAFA more.

Yasmin~ You're right, a discussion of our individual experiences isn't productive to much when discussing the state of queer activism on immigrations issues. I'll admit that I don't know much about the numbers surrounding these issues, the money being dedicated to each group, and I'll defer to your more extensive knowledge on the subject.

But I just don't see UAFA taking away from a discussion of larger immigration issues. I think that Bil makes a good point when he describes how these issues get cordoned off from each other and put into little boxes. UAFA's a gay issue (and a third-rate one at that, after the first tier of marriage, marriage, marriage, and the second of civil rights legislation and hate crimes legislation); immigration reform is, well, an immigration issue. (Referring to the way they're deployed in the media, of course.)

So maybe that's why I haven't seen a Situation Room discussion where Wolf Blitzer asks a presidential candidate about his/her plans for immigration reform and receives a response about UAFA, or Pat Buchanan penning a column about how, before we stop all those Mexicans, we simply must stop the gay partners by opposing UAFA.

But that's just media representations, and as I said at the top, I don't know about the money being directed at activism, as well as other resources. I'm going to read your linked articles right after this, don't worry!

Bil~ Buttsechs? I thought you didn't like LOLcat!

I don't know if this post was about finding allies in activism as much as it was about realizing the interconnections between these issues in terms of economics, electoral politics, and power. The criticisms from one field help expand another, and so I blather on.

Bill~ I agree on the fissures being applied to divide and conquer, but just how do we overcome those fissures? I think Bil did have a point - what divides people on those two issues is more than just a lack of knowledge that working together is better than working alone. It's more than just "Joe will give a speech about how great an open border would be, now the divide is healed."

Maybe the possibility for change does start with queer immigrants and first-genners.

Don't look at me!

UAFA NOW~ I don't think that she meant that there's no pain in the situation (maybe she did, she can correct me if I'm wrong), but that there are other pains to consider in this situation as well. Sorts of pain that don't make it to a Julia Roberts movie, but are still just as real.

Bill also has a good point when he lifts up queer immigrants. It always pisses me off when we refuse asylum to some poor soul who's being persecuted in his/her own country for being LGBT and we send them right back to it. So sorry! After all, if we're not protected against discrimination and hate crimes at home, how can we afford to offer that type of help to someone from another country? At least that's the reasoning that the US government seems to fall back on...

I'm not sure where the idea that only rich people end up in these situations came from or that only privileged people will benefit from the UAFA. I'm a radical queer who would much rather see borders eradicated than immigration reform anyways. Yet, I find myself in a situation where I'm not allowed to legally be with my partner of 5 years because there is no UAFA. We are not rich by any stretch of the imagination and the whole worker argument doesn't hold because one of us is disabled and unable to work. Spousal sponsorship is the only way we'd be able to live together legally. I know a lot more poor people in this situation than rich people. Sure, the media stories are the rich executives since they're trying to appeal to all the racists/classists in the states, but that's not who gets in this situation more. As an American/Canadian couple, we lived closer to each other than either of us lived to many people in our respective countries, so it's not about mobility either. This article makes a lot of assumptions that are simply not true and has an analysis based on these false assumptions. Passing the UAFA does not prevent more radical reform from taking place, but could make a lot of lives easier in the process of the anti-capitalist revolution that we all know is not going to take place in our lifetimes.


"Many binational couples live in anxiety and spend a lot of their scarce resources devising ways to stay with their partners; not all of them have the money and resource to fly back and forth between countries."

That's a direct quote from my post -- so I'm not sure why you'd write as if I claimed that "only rich people end up in these situations or that only privileged people will benefit from the UAFA," as you put it.

I'm thoroughly intrigued by the fact that so many UAFA supporters consistently ignore my questions and analyses about the inadequacies of family reunification as a grounding concept of immigration reform; the possibility that other reform measures -- such as simply acknowledging people as individual workers and not just as appendages of others -- might work more effectively; the fact that the UAFA does nothing for undocumented partners; the stark dangers that face people who are forced to endure the prison of marriage in order to stay documented; the need to formulate immigration reform proposals which acknowledge the economic underpinnings of the crisis; and a myriad other issues raised by my post.

Tyler, I'm deeply sympathetic to the fact that one of you is unable to work because of a disability and I can see why you'd consider the UAFA the best and quickest solution. But I'm coming at this as an activist on the left and as someone concerned with the larger picture. One solution, in your case, would be to argue that partners in your situation be covered the same way as people's physically dependent/aging parents. But even that would not solve all the issues. While spousal sponsorship might ensure that you live together, would it resolve the many economic issues you're bound to face as a household where one person has a disability? And would the person with the disability be covered by the other's health insurance? If you're in Canada, would that even be an issue?

I have a friend who brought his mother, who has a chronic health problem, into the country as a dependent in order to get her the kind of medical care she couldn't get in his country of birth. But he has struggled, despite his doctor's income and access to the medical industry, to make sure that she gets adequate care. Because she can't get insurance on her own and his insurance won't cover her because she's not his spouse/partner. The issues that face us on a daily basis, as immigrants and non-immigrants; as dependents and non-dependents, have to do with basics like health care and worker rights. Why are we fighting to expand a system that makes people dependent on the good will and the health care of others? Why aren't we -- or at least those of us who insist that gay marriage and the UAFA can solve our problems - more focused on creating a system that ensures economic rights and health care to all -- irrespective of their marital/coupled status?

I know that one response, already articulated by some posts here and in response to my Windy City Times piece on changing the paradigms of immigration reform, will be that we've simply got to face the system we've got and take what we can. Well, as I said above, I'm coming at this as an activist, not as someone who wants the status quo or to fight for the short term.

Nobody doubts that there are people who suffer because of the anxiety of separation. But so do those who've spent their lives in the country without conventional ties and families to show for it. UAFA supporters persist in reducing immigration to affect and the personal when it is about so much more. My concern, as an immigration activist on the left, is to think about reform that considers the issues, like health care and labour reform, that everyone faces and are at the root of the crisis. The Chicago Reporter story about migrant day workers denied the health care that's due to them (referenced in my Windy City Times piece) is an excellent example of how health care is connected to immigration reform.

My question to the UAFA community is simply this: You insist that the UAFA will not prevent overall reform, but will you fight for that once you get the UAFA passed? Or will you simply disappear into the sunset without a care once your own private issues are reconciled?

I probably did not read your original post as carefully as I should have before commenting - I see there are parts that I missed. However, it still seems that you think that passing the UAFA would stand in the way of broader reforms. I don't think any immigration reform should be solely about workers because I don't think that a person's value should be determined by their ability to stimulate the economy. I believe in the whole "give as you are able, take as you need" idea of mutual aid. I was fighting for immigration rights for all immigrants long before I was in a binational relationship and have had to stop since being in this relationship so as to not draw too much attention to myself. If my relationship became legal (through the UAFA), I could finally return to the immigration activism I used to do. I know I'm not the only one in this situation and I honestly have yet to meet a UAFA supporter or person in a binational relationship who is not in favor of more radical reform. We just know that we need our initial stress of being denied legal access to our family relieved before we can effectively fight for just about anything else. So, the UAFA is our immediate need, but I can guarantee a lot of us will still be around to fight for broader immigration reform and we'll be able to fight harder and more effectively because we won't have the insane personal stress of forced separation. And family reunification is not the only issue that could be considered, but it is important - it seems you have something against family relationships ("the prison of marriage"), but there are many people who have positive family relationships (including to their spouse/partner) and denying family reunification is both cruel and illogical. To me anyways, being with my immediate family (partner, kids, etc) is a need just above basic survival needs and I can't do much else when that need isn't met because of persecution from my government. Our immigration policy doesn't need to be based on family reunification or economics, but it can have aspects of both. I am still of the idea that opening the borders is the most radical and smartest idea, but I know that will not happen in my lifetime.

Yasmin, your piece offers some interesting points about family based immigration. You suggested that people should be treated as individual workers and not just appendages of others, but you fail to acknowledge that we all live with support groups within our society. Some of us do want to have our status recognized. Unlike undocumented immigrants, the reason for bi-national couples to want to stay in the U.S. is because of the relationship with a U.S. citizen, not because the non-citizen would like to seek work in the U.S.

There are earlier posts that touch on your colorful depiction of "mobility." Mobility or exile, why should the U.S. citizen lose the right to reside in his native country (if s/he chooses) with his/her partner? Again, this is an issue that goes to the Constitution and human rights, and cannot be resolved by only looking at the economic side.

As for dependencies and the "prison of marriage" argument about how someone might get "stuck," it is only so if s/he wants to get out of the relationship but still remains in the U.S. In the heterosexual context, immigration court judges do look at individual circumstances when adjudicating. We mostly have "no fault" marriage in the U.S. and the non-citizen could abandon the Permanent Resident status and leave the U.S. It is a far cry from being "stuck" like a woman would get in a Muslim country. I suspect the kind of case you cited is of minority.

I respect that you have considered the undocumented partner issue. However, being gay and in a bi-national relationship is not an excuse to remain in the U.S. illegally. It's hard to imagine how an argument can be made on behalf of illegal partner in an attempt to invalidate UAFA that will at least protect those who have tried to follow our bias immigration law. I sympathize with the illegals, but not being included under UAFA is a circumstance of their decisions. If we were to legitimize illegals immigrants, that must be done outside of UAFA under different lights. It is not UAFA's scope to include this class of people and the exclusion is not dispositive to say that UAFA serves no purpose.

Finally, you asked "My question to the UAFA community is simply this: You insist that the UAFA will not prevent overall reform, but will you fight for that once you get the UAFA passed? Or will you simply disappear into the sunset without a care once your own private issues are reconciled?"

The answer is no. There are many other organizations that are already fighting for undocumented workers' rights, unfair deportation practice, etc. However, they work independent of LBGT issues. Gay community as a group is very diverse, which include CEOs and factory workers, Democrats and Republicans. These gay people might very well stand on the opposite end of the undocumented worker issue. It is unfair to delay relieve to bi-national couples who are forced to make painful choices whether to live together overseas or to live apart for months at a time just because you are afraid that some of us would "disappear into the sunset" after UAFA is passed. For these people, it is not just a piece of writing in newspaper. For them, it is real!


Your words exemplify the contradictions espoused by many UAFA supporters.

Let me first make something clear: I'm not coming at this issue as a queer person who sees her interests as somehow separate from all other issues, but as an immigration activist who happens to be queer. So I'm not obligated to simply consider what you call the "diversity" of opinion among queers. And, of course, by diversity, what you really mean, I gather, is the many kinds of people who support UAFA.

It's interesting to me that the only kinds of personal stories that matter to many UAFA supporters are the ones involving their own partnerships. But I've also raised the story of Alimah, whose story is not about an undocumented alien but about a marriage that has left her terribly dependent on someone - and I'm struck by the sheer callousness towards her situation.

So for you, Lee, getting out of the marriage is just so easy - get a judge to adjudicate, damn the consequences of her having to come out as lesbian to her husband and community (that, btw, is the kind of "let them go back" rhetoric - I'm used to hearing from immigration rights opponents. And I'm not in the least bit surprised to hear it echoed here). I don't want to reinforce the usual stereotypes about what happens to women in Muslim countries, but you certainly raise those - and yet, interestingly, the issue of what happens to queer bodies in said Muslim countries never enters your comment.

And how is she to simply return? With whose money, exactly? As I've made clear in my Windy City Times article on the UAFA, "Queer Immigration: Change the Paradigms" [http://tinyurl.com/2vydhb], people in this situation are stuck in more ways than one. I ask you to read the piece for more clarification, but let me assure you that matters are never as simple as you'd like to think they are. Under the H-4 visa (which is essentially what the UAFA is arguing for), a spouse/partner can't even get a social security number and can't seek employment. But I think you know that already (or would, if you'd just read the Hindu piece on H-4/dependent visas), and simply choose to make a point with an airily dismissive statement: "I suspect the kind of case you cited is of minority." Let me repeat: the H-4 visa status is a category that renders a great many people utterly dependent on their spouses/partners for everything from money to health care (if the latter is even available).

And it's also interesting that so many, implicitly or explicitly, make it clear that this legislation is also about drawing a line between undocumented immigrants - your entire post implicitly draws a distinction between desirable and undesirable immigrants, and this is the major reason why I won't align myself with pro-UAFA forces. I have no interest in perpetuating these same problematic divisions. No-one is demanding that the UAFA specifically include undocumented people -- after all, every piece of legislation is specifically geared to particular communities - but it's important to note that it helps to perpetuate the division between two groups of immigrants, and that it reinforces the same horrible gendered ways of living (economic and political dependence on a spouse) that we should be done with by now.

Let me ask you what I asked a previous commenter: what happens once your spouse/partner enters the country and begins to live with you? Is that the end of the matter? What happens to health care? What happens to the possibility of making a living for oneself? Why should the U.S citizen have so much power? What happens to those who've become undocumented for various complicated reasons and also want to stay attached to the support networks that you rightly point out? Why, to put it bluntly, are gay/straight romantic partnerships more important and worthy of saving than any other? And why is it that you and some other commenters insist on the fiction that all your problems would be solved if you could just be together? The last scene of The Graduate comes to mind.

As for the kind of support immigration organisers are likely to receive from most UAFA-folk -- I think your last paragraph makes it clear that your answer to my question ( “… will you simply disappear into the sunset…. once your own private issues are reconciled?”) is in fact a resounding yes. Apparently, worker's rights, unfrair deportation practices, and such can never be queer issues. So .. are queer people only affected by issues that concern relationships?

At any rate, this is, in all seriousness, a fascinating thread of comments. So fascinating, with so many interesting contradictions, that my next blog post could be about the strategic uses of the personal in queer organising, with the UAFA as a prime example. So thanks for rousing me from my cold-induced slumber on a crisp Sunday morning and energising me on this!

Yasmin, thank you for posting a reply. I am glad you have made your position clearer, as I suspected all along, that you come from an immigration activist background and for you, immigration is all or nothing. You are unwilling to compromise or even to consider the position of the conflicting point of view before jumping to conclusion.

It is easy to debate this on paper, but by you accusing all UAFA supporters of having some gain in self-interest, you are also discounting that there are bi-national couples who cannot afford to debate with you years on. For these people, they have problems that demand solutions. Your position as an immigration activist, while noble, is not impractical and irresponsible to use these bi-national couple as collateral damage in an attempt to achieve your own agendas.

Your reiteration of the question to me as to whether UAFA supporters will fade into the sunset is largely irrelevant. I respectfully point out to you that you should not hold these bi-national couples as hostage unless they agree that they will fight with you after the passage of UAFA, or that they agree with you regarding the undocumented worker issues. No doubt, some of the UAFA supporters are also active in helping undocumented worker, but there are many who oppose them coming to the U.S. illegally in the first place. Whatever opinion they have, it does not change the issue UAFA intends to resolve regarding bi-national couples. I will emphasize again that for bi-national couples, the first reason of the non-citizen partner to want to immigrate is to be with his/her partner, and not to obtain job in the U.S.

That leads to my discussion with the case of Alimah, H4 and marriage. The fact remains that the court would rather allow two people who no longer want to be in a marital relationship to get out rather easily. This is a settled point and it is not up to me to say how easy it should be to get married or unmarried. In the case of Alimah, if according to you, she came out later as a lesbian, then was she ever straight? Was her marriage legitimate or was it a sham? Family based immigration would ideally work if people do not cheat the system. Alimah has cheated the system if she never took the relationship seriously. If she did, we wouldn't be talking about her case now, would we?

You are confused between certain types of visa in the context of UAFA. H4 visa is a dependent visa on a H1 work visa. While H1 has dual intent, it is NOT a green card (permanent residence) and it is still a non-immigrant visa. UAFA deals with permanent visa. Currently, a U.S. citizen can sponsor his/her spouse for a Green Card when they enter into a marital relationship and UAFA seeks to help bi-national same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples who otherwise choose not to get married. H1 holders aren't even permanent residents, let alone U.S. citizens and as such, UAFA could not even be written in a way to help them. As I said before, if you have such a conviction in being an immigrant activist, you would urge others to join you in getting a separate piece of legislation passed. However, if congress feels justified to deny a U.S. citizen his right to choose to live with his/her partner outside of marriage, what makes you think they would pass a law benefiting temporary-immigrant such as H1 holders? So in that regards, UAFA helps the cause, and won't hinder it as described by you.

"Let me ask you what I asked a previous commenter: what happens once your spouse/partner enters the country and begins to live with you? Is that the end of the matter? What happens to health care? What happens to the possibility of making a living for oneself? Why should the U.S citizen have so much power?"

Again, you have confused a temporary immigrant visa with permanent residence. The U.S. citizen does not have any more power than the spouse holding a Green Card (or one who becomes a U.S. citizen through naturalization). A green card holder will be able to obtain a Social Security Number right away and work. Even if the couples split within the first three years, if they can prove that they did not enter into the marriage for the purpose of immigration, the green card holder will likely be allowed to stay.

In the context of H1/H4 visa holders, immigration law still considers them non-citizen and that they do not have allegiance with this country. As such, if the H4 holder decides that she wants a divorce, she has to leave. Just like any temporary visitors, they had to satisfy the immigration officer that they have sufficient fund to stay and then leave the U.S. It is outside the scope of any immigration law to obligate this country to pay for their airfare to leave, for example.

"What happens to those who've become undocumented for various complicated reasons and also want to stay attached to the support networks that you rightly point out?" The big word is "undocumented" in your question. Common law has a doctrine that states that you can't ask the law for hand with dirty hands. Again, staying attached with your support group, or partner, etc. is not an excuse to break the immigration law. If these people were to be legitimized, it has to be done on a separate piece of legislation. The issue is totally different from UAFA.

"Why, to put it bluntly, are gay/straight romantic partnerships more important and worthy of saving than any other? And why is it that you and some other commenters insist on the fiction that all your problems would be solved if you could just be together? The last scene of The Graduate comes to mind."

First of all, you assumed that I have a lot to gain with UAFA! I don't. You should be careful in making assumption that all who are in support of UAFA are in some sort of bi-national same-sex relationship. If that's that case, the co-signers of the bills should be concerned. There are people who see this as a human right, constitutional or social justice issues even though they are not those who are involved in this kind of relationship. It is not that romantic relationship is more worthy of saving. It's just that it is possibly the strongest bond two people can have. As such, being able to remain together will at least give each other comfort, and to know that your partner is safely in your arms. It will solve a lot of problem, or at least you know that you have the support of your partner in tackling other issues that you raised such as health care benefit. These other issues, while important, are minor in nature when comparing to be able to stay with his/her partner for bi-national couples. Until you live through it yourself, it is hard to imagine the pain involved in a long-distance, cross border relationship.

Finally, all through your last post, you have accused me of simplifying things and you wrote "Apparently, worker's rights, unfair [sic] deportation practices, and such can never be queer issues" Those are your words, not mine. I only point out to you that these issues affect all people, gay or straight. If you want to fight these issues within the appropriate forum, that's all good. However, you have tried unsuccessfully to say that all gay bi-national relationships will encounter these issues, which is untrue. These are separate issues and should be fought with our straight allies as well. If you are at all serious about being an immigration activist, you would not try to alienate gay from straight or even within the gay community. It is irrelevant on whether UAFA supporters will walk with you on the other issues you raised. This is not a plea bargain, Yasmin!

Issues addressed in UAFA is hard fought and often has to be specific to get the desirable result. Again, I respect your noble causes, but it is unrealistic to want one piece of legislation to do so many things. Further, it is irresponsible for you to advocate on holding bi-national gay couples hostage while you advance your other agendas on health issues, undocumented workers, et al.

It seems to me you have some misunderstanding about visa classes for temporary immigrants and U.S. citizenship, evidenced from the cases you cited, that lead to your unjustified conclusion that UAFA is not worthy of your support. I am glad that organizations such as the HRC do not share your view.


For your information – and that of others – the H1-B (whose holders can bring spouse under the H-4 categorisation) visa is the only “dual-purpose” visa: it allows holders to come into the country AND allows them to eventually petition for permanent residency and citizenship. How do you think all those workers – including professors at universities and computer consultants (not to privilege these professions, but most people don’t realize that all kinds of labour comes in under the H1 visa) -- eventually get on track for permanent residency and, often, eventual citizenship? Of course the H1 is not a green card but it can set you on the path towards one. Given the very large number of H1-Bs entering the country, that’s a pretty significant population of spouses (which isn’t to assume that everyone’s married, but many are, or will be).

And to be clear on another point that you raise: “…if the H4 holder decides that she wants a divorce, she has to leave. Just like any temporary visitors, they had to satisfy the immigration officer that they have sufficient fund to stay and then leave the U.S. It is outside the scope of any immigration law to obligate this country to pay for their airfare to leave, for example.” Let me be clear: No. What about this is unclear? The H-4 visa holder is the dependent, in every way, of the H1 visa holder and is not required to show the existence of sufficient funds – it’s the H1 visa holder who needs to prove that he/she has sufficient funds to SUPPORT his/her dependent (that would be the H-4 visa holder). You, like so many people, are confusing the H1 visa holder with his or her spousal dependent, the H-4 visa holder. Let me be blunt: Stop obfuscating matters with incorrect information.

As for Aalimah, why do you automatically assume that she entered into the relationship in order to cheat anyone? As you write, completely disregarding my critique of family based immigration reform, “Family based immigration would ideally work if people do not cheat the system. Aalimah has cheated the system if she never took the relationship seriously. If she did, we wouldn't be talking about her case now, would we?” Let’s put aside the issues here about assuming that sexuality is this fixed and stable thing, and that everyone is somehow in full possession of their knowledge about their sexuality from birth, or even that they should be. Let’s put that aside for a while because I don’t, given my reasons for confidentiality, want to discuss Aalimah’s case in detail. Let’s just focus on the words you so delight in using, about “cheating” and “taking relationships seriously.” Again, as I’ve said before, I find your attitude and that of some other UAFA supporters delightfully revealing – you’re happy to resort to the blame game and the rhetoric of “illegals” and “cheating” in order to further your goal, and you really do assume that some relationships are worth more than others (for more on that, see below). You see why I have no faith in most UAFA supporters? I happen to know a lot of bi-national couples and I also happen to think that people like Marta Donayer and Leslie Bilbuk have a comprehensive vision of immigration reform (you’ll read more about them in my Windy City Times articles, showing, once again, my infinite capacity for working with others). But HRC, IE, O4I, and the rest? I think not.

As for as your comment: “…you [meaning me] would urge others to join you in getting a separate piece of legislation passed.” You imply that I’ve failed to work with UAFA supporters, and that I’m incapable of compromise. Okay, people (and by people, I mean every other UAFA supporter who writes in from now on!)– this is the LAST time I’m going to say this: I and others did, in fact, work very hard on working with supporters of the UAFA, including Immigration Equality and Out 4 Immigration. You can read all about it in my earlier Windy City Times article (already referenced in the original bilerico.com piece) titled “Gay Marriage and Immigration (In)Equality”[ http://tinyurl.com/2a9ahj]. We bent over backwards to work with UAFA supporters, only to watch groups like IE, O4I and NGLTF decide to withdraw their support from the only comprehensive queer vision for immigration reform that’s out there. So you see, Lee, it’s hardly for lack of trying. As I tried to explain to another UAFA supporter on the phone the other day, I’ve had enough political organising experience with the groups supporting the UAFA to know that they have no intentions of supporting a comprehensive immigration reform package.

There’s a lot of manipulative tugging-at-the-heartstrings rhetoric in your post, along with some pretty nasty implications about my capacity for emotions, and I won’t dignify all that with an extended response. But I’d like to point out your habit (proving once again that, yes, there is an Unconscious) of letting your real politics emerge regarding what you think are the proper kinds of relationships, and the really marvellous and revealing way in which your sentences state the exact opposite of what you claim to express. Take, as just one example: “It is not that romantic relationship is more worthy of saving. It's just that it is possibly the strongest bond two people can have.” You call it the strongest bond two people could have, but you’re not, of course, in any way implying that romantic relationships are more worthy of saving. Huh. Okay, then. Glad we’ve got that cleared up. The health care crisis is a horribly serious one, as is the current economic crisis overall. Trust me on this: times are really, really bad and all the love in the world doesn’t help when you’re struggling to pay your bills and hoping that you don’t suffer from even the slightest injury. And it’s a lot worse, trust me, when both people are struggling to pay bills and find health care.

And thank you, by the way, for revealing your allegiance to HRC. To echo your words about me: I suspected it all along, given your blindness to anyone who doesn’t hew closely to your model of queerness. Your first sentence, where you write “… as I suspected all along, that you come from an immigration activist background…” makes it sound like I’ve been harbouring some nasty secret when, in fact, I’ve been as out there as I could possible be. And you also make it sound like I’m pining for support from the HRC. Again, let me be clear: like an increasingly large number of queers – I want absolutely nothing to do with that organisation, thank you.

I am sick and tired of listening to so-called leftists as though they are the only people that matter. Some of us more moderates who are actually here legally and have worked hard to get where we are have found that our relationship with a same-sex partner is causing us problems regarding future plans. My problem has nothing to do with travelling thousands of miles to escape poverty; dragging myself through drug dens; working all hours for next to nothing ... As a white, highly-educated professional male I am personally offended that Yasmin wants to bring in her economic and feminist critique. I recently attended a so-called immigration meeting in Chicago (Yasmin was one of the speakers), but found that unless you were a person of color with a sob story, you would not get heard. Before screaming back at me, realise this: immigration = coming into the country from another. There is no qualification regarding skin color; language skills; economic status. If the UAFA is the only way that law-abiding same-sex couples can gain long-term access to this country, then so be it.

Dear Anton,

Thanks for your response, which provides an astonishing amount of clarity to this discussion, especially here: "As a white, highly-educated professional male I am personally offended that Yasmin wants to bring in her economic and feminist critique." And thanks especially for proving my point(s). I trust that this provides clarity to those who've been wondering why so many of us who work on an expansive and comprehensive immigration reform package are especially wary of the narrow interests of UAFA supporters.

Those reading this should know that the panel, hosted by the Center on Halsted, was extremely comprehensive in its representation of issues concerning queers and representation. The topics were: the HIV Ban, the issues affecting trans people under the proposed Read ID Act, the issues affecting undocumented queer immigrant youth, the issues facing people in bi-national couples, and the need to change the paradigms of immigration reform. I'd also like to gently remind people that, apparently, a story about immigration is moving personal testimony when a (usually) "white, professional, highly-educated male", such as Anton, talks about his experience. When the rest of the immigrant population brings its stories to the fore, these are dismissed as "sob stories." For the record, there was no attempt to exclude anyone who wanted to share their stories. And I would love to hear from those who've actually attended a meeting about queer immigration that represented as many issues on one panel as this one (there have been some in NY, but most public discussions on queer immigration focus exclusively on the UAFA).

Again, Anton, thanks for the stunning clarity. I rest my case.