On the heels of the introduction of a new immigration proposal in the House of Representatives and ahead of Saturday’s “National Day of Dignity and Respect,” NCTE has issued a new report titled, “Out Moment for Reform: Immigration and Transgender People.” The report identifies issues facing transgender immigrants and illuminates how the failings of the current immigration system affect transgender immigrants and their families.
Of the 267,000 undocumented LGBT people living in the U.S. today, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 are transgender. This estimate does not include undocumented transgender youth, or transgender U.S. citizens and legal residents with undocumented family members. Undocumented transgender people face numerous obstacles as a result of both transphobia and their undocumented status. As Brent Wilkes, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)’s National Executive Director has aptly stated:
“We know that transgender [citizens] face multiples levels of discrimination in employment, housing and health security, which is made worse for undocumented transgender people. [LULAC has] supported the inclusion of the full LGBT community in immigration reform legislation because we could not allow any member of our community to be treated differently.”
Transgender immigrants are often unable to obtain legally authorized work in the U.S., and if they do find employment they face exploitation by employers. Employment insecurity results in high levels of poverty and homelessness among undocumented transgender people; and despite being more likely to have college-level education, undocumented transgender people are far more likely than transgender U.S. citizens to live in poverty. Undocumented transgender immigrants are also more likely to lack access to public services, particularly healthcare. Like their non-transgender counterparts, undocumented transgender immigrants experience a high rate of being uninsured. Those that are able to obtain coverage regularly face discrimination when seeking treatment.
Proponents of immigration reform have recognized that transgender individuals face unique challenges in our immigration system. Mary Meg McCarthy, the Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), has recognized that transgender immigrants are particularly susceptible to the abuses of the immigration process:
“Passing an immigration law that respects human rights for all people remains critical to sexual minority immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable in the face of our current broken immigration system . . . Congress has an opportunity with immigration reform to improve access to justice for all immigrants, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or any other characteristic.”
For transgender and non-transgender immigrants alike, a pathway to citizenship would provide legal certainty that they will not be deported or separated from their families and communities, while improving their ability to earn a living and continue contributing to society. Doug Stump, President, American Immigration Lawyers Association has advocated for reorganization of the immigration process:
“We urge Congress to take the necessary steps to create an immigration system that lives up to American values because it’s not about what you look like, who you love, or where you were born that makes you American – it’s how you live your life and what you do that defines you here in this country.”
NCTE, together with its partners in the LGBT movement, will continue to pressure members of the House of Representatives to move reform forward and we will monitor the bill’s progress to ensure that the bill addresses the real needs of LGBT immigrants and their loved ones.
NCTE wishes to recognize and express our profound gratitude to the many allies and immigration experts on whose partnership and expertise we rely constantly in our advocacy work, and without whom this report would not have been possible. The following organizations in particular provided invaluable feedback for this report, and are doing outstanding work every day to help individuals (many of them transgender) and change immigration policies for the better.
We also wish to thank those affected by the immigration system who allowed us to use their stories, especially Bambi Salcedo, Jaan Williams, Priyanka Oberoi, Johanna Vasquez, and Krypcia Campbell.