Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

I recently joined the board of directors at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. My growing concern for the lack of philanthropic efforts to address the needs of queer people of color was the prime impetus behind this decision.

I can proudly say that I am drawn to Astraea because as a public foundation, Astraea helps to fund the grassroots work of organizations such as Black Lives Matter and many queer POC groups, who are at the forefront of movement-building and social change in the United States. I am also thrilled at the opportunity to be part of a foundation that is defining lesbian feminism in the most inclusive terms, and advancing global LGBT human rights without advancing colonialism.

I am truly glad to have added it as an organization that goes in my yearly giving portfolio, and hope that many more of my friends and followers can do the same. As a public foundation with a 4/4 Charity Navigator rating, you’ll get the maximum bang for your buck.

Check out our work and let me know if you’ve any questions about the organization!


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Community Voices: “The Good Fight”

I was honored to be on Episode 2 of The Good Fight with Ben Wickler, a progressive show about people changing the world.

Friend of this blog, Professor Allegra McLeod at Georgetown Law, had her research on immigrant and criminal convictions covered extensively in an article by The Atlantic on Why Are Immigrants Being Deported for Minor Crimes?

Allegra McLeod, an associate Professor of Law at Georgetown, examined cases like Sylvain’s in a position paper last year for the American Criminal Law Review. She writes that between 1990 and 2010, immigration offenses became the most common federally prosecuted crimes in the U.S. After 1996, when the new laws took affect, approximately one million immigrants were been deported as a result of criminal convictions. Moreover, McLeod estimates that 20 percent of those removed were longtime legal residents, and the majority of their crimes were minor, non-violent offenses.

[…]

What’s more, McLeod writes, “a criminal conviction is not necessarily a reliable indicator of undesirability or dangerousness.” For that reason, the heightened attention on immigrants like Sylvain and Khoy would not seem to be in the public’s best interest. McLeod cites Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson, who found that increases in immigration normally are “associated with reduced crime rates,” and that “the diversion of resources to criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants may be particularly misguided from a public safety standpoint.”

The Atlantic delves into why the U.S. is deporting long-time legal permanent residents:

Sylvain is one of thousands of immigrants who have been charged with “aggravated felonies” by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The term, first introduced in the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, applies specifically to immigrants and asylum-seekers: If they’re convicted of any of the crimes in this category, they can be deported and prohibited from reentering the U.S. for 20 years. In 1988, the list of aggravated felonies was limited to serious crimes such as murder and drug trafficking. But Congress expanded the definition over the years, most extensively in 1996.

The two 1996 laws—the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA—came in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when Congress felt pressured to streamline new immigration reform. The measures made more than 20 new crimes into aggravated felonies, including counterfeit, perjury, and obstruction of justice. They also reduced threshold requirements from five years to one, meaning that any immigrant issued a one-year prison sentence could be instantly deportable.

Immigrant rights organizers continued to partake in shutdown ICE actions by trying to stop deportation buses even as Congress tip-toed around the question of immigration reform. In Illinois, undocumented organizers and supporters formed human chains to stop their third deportation bus. In Atlanta, more than a dozen persons locked themselves to the gates of the downtown Atlanta ICE office to protest deportations. After partaking in the action, Caitlin Breedlove, Co-director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), wrote an excellent piece on Queer, Immigrants, All of Us: Not 1 More.

This is not a surprise for most of us but a recently released GAO report on sexual abuse in detention found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under-reported sexual abuse and assault in detention. A staggering 20 percent of detainees who reported sexual assault or abuse are transgender, showcasing the need for direct services for this population.

The Nation carried an excellent article on the ever-expanding U.S.-surveillance and border regime:

In many cases, the US is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries. More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have taken part in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.

Meanwhile, US borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters. As Michael Schmidt wrote in the New York Times in 2012, for example, “An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.” There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.

Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti’s case, in the international waters around your country, the US border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the “homeland.” If you don’t meet Washington’s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from traveling anywhere at all.

[…]

With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the US-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has grown up around it are heading abroad in a major way. If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along US borders, but also at the edges of its empire.

The frontier isn’t coming down anytime soon. The USCIS released a policy memo re-stating that it would continue to deny priority date retention to age-outs until the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) issue is resolved by the Supreme Court. It also added that any applications filed for adjustment of status from now on, seeking retention of priority date, would be rejected as improperly filed, and not even held in abeyance. This memo is suspiciously well-timed for the litigation at the Supreme Court, and a post-ad hoc justification for not giving full meaning to the CSPA.

For those of us who watched the Hunger Games today, here is some food for thought on the revolution that the U.S. refuses to start.

I’m Team Haymitch. I think we are just about appropriately jaded, no?


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How Queer Undocumented Youth Built the Immigrant Rights Movement

I don’t usually give a damn to what DC immigration groups do because ain’t nobody got time for that. That is true until someone tries to re-write my history. And that is precisely what straight, white, cisgender and clueless male Frank Sharry, who is best known for running several failed political campaigns, does in his racist Washington Post column.

The columm is racist because it marginalizes the existence and work of queer undocumented youth. The column is also racist because Sharry is essentially implying that the people of color immigrant rights movement learned tactics from the white gay movement, which is highly problematic and inaccurate. And as a straight male, Frank should shy away from ever using phrases like “It is time to go gay on their ass” because that is just plain old heterosexism (and inappropriate).

Now, the Washington Post was willing to post his 1800-word vile and depraved white racist ignorance, but unwilling to post our response, which was written with the input of over a dozen past and present immigrant youth leaders. The beauty of the massive social media network and presence that we’ve built is that we don’t need racism-enabling networks such as the Washington Post to respond with truth.

This column was initially titled “Frank Sharry Didn’t Build That.” But he isn’t important enough to be a title in anything I write so the response is how queer undocumented youth built the immigrant rights movement.

Because we did.


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Guest Lecturing at Swarthmore

I turned up at Swarthmore College on Saturday afternoon, just in time for my lecture workshop on “Regulating Bodies: Queerness, Immigration and the State.”

A live blog is here. I particularly wanted to move beyond talking about our lives in “intersections” and focus more on how the regulation of queer bodies relates to controls on immigration and how it is part of the same bio-power — in more simplified terms.

So I spoke about words that hurt, how certain immigrants have moved from undesirable to desirable (and sometimes back to undesirable) depending on what best serves the state interest, regulation of queer bodies interspersed with actions taken by (queer) undocumented youth today.

I also took the opportunity to address the privilege that comes with being an undocumented student in higher education or as part of a same-sex bi-national couple. These are increasingly desirable traits and it is becoming increasingly difficult (and unpopular) for the state to control our bodies by keeping us in legal limbo. The state of limbo can also be seen as a “waiting room” and when people in a waiting room are made to wait for too long, they realize that they have a common interest against the state, which is keeping them out. Sooner or later, the state has to make a carefully calculated decision on opening the gates and pacifying the loudest, as well as the most desirable occupants.

Stuck in limbo, unable to move forward or reverse course, what are you going to be loud about?

The students were absolutely wonderful and engaged, with really intelligent questions. I was also delighted to meet some parents who were showing support of their queer sons/daughters by attending the conference. And someone asked for an autograph — embarrassingly enough. At dinner with Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr students, we discussed ways in which we could make the colleges more open and accessible to undocumented youth. Then, it was time for me to come home and do homework.


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Of Border Gays and Trans Migrants: Where Next?

Jose Antonio Vargas is perhaps the best known border gay.

But there is much larger community of border gays and trans* migrants who don’t necessarily bask in the mainstream limelight.

Queer immigrants have been around for quite a while and involved in every civil rights struggle. The undocumented youth movement is just the latest reincarnation. From the earliest days of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) to Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) to the LGBT Caucus at DreamActivist and the March 10 Coming Out Day marked by Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), we’ve long been active and at the forefront of securing more rights for immigrant communities while not leaving our queer allegiances behind. If and when the DREAM Act is passed, it would be in large part due to the unrelenting efforts of queer youth and women.

But it has not been easy to navigate the complex world of immigration politics. Different forces have always tried to divide us. We’ve been told to leave spaces because we are queer. We’ve been left out of conversations because we speak our minds. We’ve been told to suppress or hide one part of ourselves in favor of another. We’ve been cast in the binary of good gays and bad queers by white professional anti-racists. We’ve been told to speak out against each other to protect certain heterosexual privileging. We’ve been told that our lives and truths need to be filtered and watered down for the comfort of our more privileged allies. Our gender-queer and trans* compadres have not been treated with the same love and respect. Over and over again.

More often than not and in somewhat mainstream LGBT circles, I’m told that immigration is simply not an LGBT issue. “The DREAM Act only tangentially affects gays.” That may be a fair criticism but I’d like to point out that marriage also tangentially affects gays. It certainly does nothing for those of us who are young, single and ready to mingle, who do not believe in the institution and who have no interest in coupledom. And since marriage is a hetero-normative institution, gay marriage is not even a queer issue. Yet I’ve seen millions getting poured into the movement for marriage equality and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which serves to mainly benefit those who assimilate to white, heterosexual normative assumptions of the family.

Personally, as a queer immigrant youth, marriage is a major turn-off because it is precisely what most of our own immigrant families want us to do from the moment we turn 18. They start telling us to “find a good American boy” or “find a good American girl” and the coercion continues for years till we can somehow leave our home or persuade them otherwise or succumb to their desires while hiding our own or kill ourselves. No thanks, I’d much rather pursue higher education as a way to get us out of poverty.

If we are concerned about fighting for issues that affect the largest number of queers, why isn’t the LGBT movement all about securing universal healthcare for everyone and making sure that both reproductive rights and gender re-assignment surgery is part of the package? And in case you forgot, we can still get fired for being queer and trans* because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) remains a non-priority. It’s just not an issue that is on the radar of the gay white boys club and hence, not important. Gay is not the new black; it is the old white.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is not to come down hard on marriage equality proponents. It’s to talk about how to serve the interests of queer immigrant youth in an increasingly hostile environment. And I’ve come up with a small laundry list.

We need to support Nico Gonzalez as he walks across the continental United States for his dream.

We need to help our queer compadres in New York pass the New York Dream Act, to provide financial assistance for long-time New York residents.

We need to pour massive amounts of time and energy into defending the Maryland DREAM Act, which grants instate tuition for everyone who attended high school in Maryland for three or more years.

We need to win on the Child Status Protection Act. After all, it is queer immigrant youth who disproportionately need to keep their original priority date to immigrate through their parents.

We need to join IYJL in celebrating the Third Annual National Coming Out Day and making the effort truly national in character.

We need to fight against the increasing archipelago of detention that disproportionately impacts our queer and trans* compadres, ranging from immigrant detention facilities to police surveillance.

We need to connect the dots between anti-immigrant fervor and good old racism whenever possible and stop people from hiding behind the word “illegal.”

That’s just a few things we need to do immediately. And we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the right time.


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