Why I’m not happy & gay about immigration reform

I’ve written before about the new argument, popular among organizations either connected to the administration, or which receive funding from immigration-rights funders, that the immigration bill is a “gay rights” bill.

This, even though the immigration bill, in its current form, has already dropped the one gay rights provision that the gay community has long been asking for, UAFA.

UAFA, you might recall, is the Uniting American Families Act.  In a nutshell, if you’re American and you marry your non-American spouse, your spouse can remain in the US.  If you’re gay and you marry your non-American spouse, under DOMA they can’t be recognized and they get deported.  UAFA would fix that (as might overturning DOMA – but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen, and in any case, we only have marriage in 9 states and DC). UAFA would fix that.

The Obama administration, to its credit, included UAFA in its immigration reform proposal earlier year this.  While the US Senate, and particularly New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, knifed us in the back, and killed UAFA’s inclusion in the current compromise legislation.

Kerry Eleveld, in a new piece for Salon, worries that perhaps the White House is now wavering on its previous commitment to including UAFA in the omnibus immigration reform bill.  And I don’t blame her, or them.  Why should anyone put UAFA back in the bill, now that our top gay rights groups, in concert with liberal organizations like the Center for American Progress, keep informing gay Americans that we already got most of what we wanted in immigration reform?

Specifically, those groups are claiming that immigration reform is a gay rights bill because it will help (they say) some 250,000 gay and trans undocumented immigrants.  They reach this number, apparently, by assuming that 2.5% of undocumented immigrants are LGBT, a conservative estimate of how many people are gay in the US overall.

And while that may be true, it’s also true of every piece of legislation that isn’t particularly gay at all.  Every piece of legislation, in principle (save anything dealing with federal benefits for marriage) will affect a certain pool of Americans, 2.5% of whom will be LGBT.  So, under this logic, as I noted earlier, every piece of legislation is a gay rights legislation, be it a tax bill, an environmental bill, or a celebration of National Ice Cream Day (since 2.5% of ice cream eaters are presumably L, G, B or T).

In addition to this logic making every bill a gay rights bill, it’s actually worse than that. The bill could affirmatively cut you out, and it would still be “your” bill.  As I explained earlier:

Under that logic, a non-Trans-inclusive ENDA [employment non-discrimination legislation] would still be trans-inclusive, and could even be called “trans legislation,” because trans-people-who-are-gay would be helped by the legislation.  And in fact they would –  the same way that gay people who are undocumented immigrants would be helped by the immigration bill. Yet, I suspect that argument wouldn’t go over too well with the trans community, or most of the gay people arguing that immigration reform is really a gay issue, and I’m not sure why it should go over any better with the gay community itself.

I object on its face to the intellectual dishonestly of claiming that immigration reform, sans UAFA, is a “gay rights” issue.  Prerna Lal, over at Huffington Post, calls this the “pinkwashing” of immigration reform.

It strikes me as an attempt to co-opt our movement for the benefit of another – because “gay” is in, so let’s make everything “gay” – and worse, to co-opt our community into not speaking up against an obvious injustice (why complain when the bill is already gay!).  And while progressives are generally supportive of immigration reform, rightly so, pinkwashing a bill that knifes our community in the back will only help to kill any chance UAFA has of making it into the final bill.  Here’s why…

Back in 2000, there were 36,000 binational gay couples who would have benefitted from UAFA, using US Census data.  One assumes that number would be larger today.  But let’s stick with 36,000.  That’s 36,000 non-Americans who would be helped.  The immigration bill as it stands, sans gay, we are told, will help 250,000 lgbt immigrants.  So that means of a total 286,000 gay or trans people, 250,000 are already being helped by the current non-UAFA bill – or, 87% of our community will be helped by the bill.  Hurray!

Who needs UAFA when we’re already getting 87% of what we asked for!

And don’t think for a minute that Schumer and everyone else won’t use that fact against us when we once again ask for UAFA when the bill goes to committee (something that is much harder than simply including it in there from the git-go).

And it’s even more insidious than that.  The community at large, if they’re not following this issue that closely, will already “know” that the immigration reform bill addresses the needs of gays – it is, after, a “gay rights bill” – so why work to make it any gayer?

Of course, the gay groups didn’t ask for that 87% of all gays who are being supposedly helped by this legislation.  It’s not like the 250,000 undocumented lgbt people affected by the immigration bill were somehow excluded from the bill until Gay Inc. signed on.  And it’s not like they’d be excluded if the gay groups signed off.  The 87% are not covered by the bill because they’re gay.  They’re covered by the bill because they’re undocumented.  Taking our seat at the immigration table, while nice of us, doesn’t appear to have gotten us anything in return, like an actual seat at the table.

Now, that’s not to say that joining coalitions is a bad thing.  It can be a very good thing to devote your limited time and resources to the causes of other progressive movements.  Not the least of which because hopefully those coalition partners will help us in the future on something we care about.  (Of course, good luck getting UAFA passed after the immigration bill is over – immigration will be “done” at that point, and Congress will probably be reluctant to address it again for a long time coming.)

I have to say, I’m having a hard time thinking of an actual example in coalition politics, when groups were asked to join on to legislation as a gesture of kindness to sister-movements, and the legislation in question specifically axed those groups that are joining on to show their camaraderie.  It’s a bit like inviting someone to dinner, only to inform them that they won’t be eating after all, but you’ll be happy to let them wash the dishes.

Would women’s groups support the immigration bill if women’s concerns were suddenly dropped from it?

Would Latino groups join on to a gay rights bill that specifically cut Latinos’ #1 concern from the bill?

It’s just a bit odd to have groups sign on to legislation that specifically excludes them and their number one issue.  That’s not the way coalition politics usually works.  At worst, you sign on to legislation that has nothing to do with you, to be a good team player – and at best, you sign on to something that does include.  But you don’t normally sign on to something that slaps you in the face and tells you that you’re mere existence is simply too embarrassing to address, and resolve – but nudge nudge, wink wink, the bill “really” covers you anyway.

Now, some are saying that once DOMA is overturned by the Supreme Court in May or June, UAFA will no longer be needed.  And that’s not even completely true.  First off, are we really convinced that the Supreme Court is going to overturn DOMA, 100%, and nationwide?  Maybe they will.  Maybe they won’t.  Second, even if they overturn DOMA, you still won’t be able to have your partner stay if you live in one of the 41 states that don’t let gay people marry.  So DOMA is no guarantee of anything.

Look, I’m glad immigration reform is finally getting it’s day in the court of public opinion.  And I’m glad that the gay and progressive groups are suddenly talking more about UAFA, now that people have been getting publicly annoyed that it’s not in the bill.  But everyone’s outspoken support of how gay a bill is that specifically axes the number one immigration request of the gay community, will only make it all the harder to include us later.

And worse, I’m not convinced that anyone will lay down in the tracks for UAFA when the time comes (again) – be it the administration, the gay groups, the progressive groups, or the immigration groups.  I hope I’m pleasantly surprised.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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46 Responses to “Why I’m not happy & gay about immigration reform”

  1. immigration says:

    Because most of the justices have to face their children, grandchildren,
    nieces or nephews, they are acutely aware of their place in history,
    they don’t want to see the courts clogged with same-sex marriage cases
    for the next 30 years (we are well-funded), and most importantly,
    Constitutionally-speaking, it is the right thing to do

  2. Milo Durst says:

    This happy and satisfied position by many Democrats, and to my surprise, some gay organizations as well — is disgusting. How can Democrats and gay organizations with any sound conscience fear Republican demands enough that they are willing to sign on to throwing American gays — who are married or domestically partnered to foreign nationals (some for a decade or more) and those spouses or partners who’ve striven to keep their partners here LEGALLY all along, always just holding on by a hair, ever having to find the new qualifying reason to remain here legally — under the bus, while simultaneously not even bothering to recognize that they are deciding instead to reward (and let’s for clarity use the old term (not politically correct and yet also, and more importantly, NOT Orwellian doublespeak): ILLEGALS? And, heaping on more irony and callous unfairness, the only Lesbian and Gay couples the law as planned now will reward, are those who have NOT FOLLOWED ALL THE RULES ALL THESE YEARS. Thanks a lot Democrats and mainstream gay organizations — and let’s add Wisconsin’s Senator Tammy Baldwin (lesbian) to that, too, she who has not so much as even responded to my letter to her two or three months ago asking that she be sure to work to be certain that same-gender binational couples be protected in any proposed immigration reform.

  3. vonlmo says:

    Tens of millions of Latino-Evangelicals, who are here illegally, will suddenly be able to vote as their church mandates they do. If these peole are granted voting rights it’s may very well tip balances in voter referenda. No gay rights groups recognise this & once again the Human Rights Campaign Fund & their beltway-cocktail-party crowd are selling the 99%, oops I mean 87%, out.

  4. celebrity o-1visalawyer says:

    why there’s a diffrerence betwwen gay and all other peoples all should be treated as same so evereyone can be immigrated.


  5. Annski1 says:

    There are many problems with this bill besides UAFA.. Super militarizing the border $3 Billion for drones and triple wire etc. Bracero/Guest Worker programs that have no guarantee of protection from exploitation. No right to join a union, updated biometric personal info e-verify for every job. U.S. citizens can use passports if they have biometric info..but not everyone can afford that, 16 years minimum before legalization for those who qualify …

  6. BeminDC says:

    I sure hope you’re right. I’m guessing you are on DOMA, but not on same sex marriage. And if it doesn’t happen, there’s not a huge chance it will within 5 years — more like 10 or 15 or 20. (Look at DADT). This stuff moves crazy slowly, despite the polls and the American public.

  7. GarySFBCN says:

    I’m not predicting how SCOTUS will rule. But I think it is just as likely that DOMA gets trounced and instead of a narrow ruling on same-sex marriage, we get a broad, sweeping ruling. Why do I think this?

    Because most of the justices have to face their children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, they are acutely aware of their place in history, they don’t want to see the courts clogged with same-sex marriage cases for the next 30 years (we are well-funded), and most importantly, Constitutionally-speaking, it is the right thing to do.

    Also feeding into this is that Olson and Scalia are friends, sometimes weekending together.

    And even if we don’t get any of this, same-sex immigration rights will happen, if not this year, within 5 years.

    I understand everyone’s anger over this. But let’s keep our eyes on the prize.

  8. vejo says:

    Good point, that was lazy of me to use that term. I just meant to say “more socially conservative than people often think .” I agree with you on the part about slashing taxes, dismantling the social safety net, etc.

  9. Skeptical Cicada says:

    What is a “natural conservative”? Funny, I don’t think there’s anything “natural” about assuming that Latinos are obsessed with slashing taxes for the super-rich, dismantling social safety net, and eradicating business regulation.

    All the Republicans have is a delusion that they can win over Latino voters with gay-bashing and fetus-baiting, which means Republicans understand Latinos about as well as they understand every other minority group.

    Indeed, the evidence suggests that Latino voters aren’t as stupid as Southern white evangelicals, who have allowed the GOP to exploit their religious fanaticism in order to slash taxes on the super-rich, dismantle the social safety net, and eradicate business regulation. Meanwhile, Roe v. Wade somehow just never quite gets overturned. Funny how that works.

  10. Skeptical Cicada says:

    A coalition partnership can be powerful if one group can help another group secure its rights without doing itself any harm in the process

    That, however, is not the scenario here. A de-gayed immigration bill would not allow the gay community to help another group secure immigration rights without doing damage to our own interests. Because the immigration bill will include draconian new enforcement measures, it will leave binational gay couples MUCH WORSE OFF than under existing law if UAFA isn’t included in the package.

    This scenario, then, is basically asking the gay community to toss our own binational couples overboard to help another group. That’s not a scenario where coalition-building can work. We’re basically being asked to take a bullet for another group and cheer about it. That’s not a coalition partnership.

  11. Skeptical Cicada says:

    I agree with BeminDC, that we can never be certain of what SCOTUS will do. Trying to predict from oral argument is extremely dicey.

    In contrast to what some of the advocates are saying, we also have no way at all of knowing how a DOMA strike down would affect binational gay couples in the 41 states without marriage equality. Especially if SCOTUS struck down DOMA because it interfered with states’ rights, as seems possible, I would not be at all surprised if SCOTUS said the federal government could only recognize gay marriages between people from states with gay marriage. Otherwise, it would be violating the “states’ rights” of the states that ban gay marriage.

    In general, nationwide federal recognition of gay marriages would be great, but SCOTUS may leave us well short of that. And, as John correctly suspects, Congress will not revisit immigration for many years if a de-gayed bill passes.

  12. BeminDC says:

    Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of being able to predict how the Supreme Court will rule (and a favorable same-sex marriage, beyond California, appears especially dicey). We need to fight on all fronts and immigration reform seems to occur only once in a generation. In our generation it is unacceptable that our families are not included in this legislation.

  13. BeccaM says:


  14. GarySFBCN says:

    As someone directly affected by this (my husband is not a citizen), I’d much rather see DOMA overturned and a broad, favorable ruling about same-sex marriage from SCOTUS.

  15. vejo says:

    No one has dissed your blessed Latinos. The only point they are trying to make is don’t be so sure they are/will be gay friendly if they become more evangelical.

    Have any of the Latino/Hispanic groups come out and demanded that UAFA be part of the proposed legislation?

  16. karmanot says:

    Oh for Christ’s sake…go away.

  17. vejo says:

    So pedantic. If you really hablahed español you would have correctly used the lower case e.

  18. vejo says:

    Polls are not “scientific data.” Think about it. You may wish for it to be so, but it isn’t. And the word is borne.

  19. BeccaM says:

    Probably. I’m not going to respond anymore to this one either.

  20. BeccaM says:

    But my dear, FLL, if the polls don’t concur with Vejo’s opinions, the polls must therefore be wrong. Even though the voting results show that well-executed polls are often extremely accurate.

    Doesn’t matter, we have an adherent to the Church of Truthiness here. If it feels right, it must be right, facts be damned.

  21. vejo says:

    Parroting polls doesn’t make you informed. Polls have agendas too. I’m saying that growing evangelicalism is not a good sign and people may start to change their minds.

  22. BeminDC says:

    I think it’s probably time I stop feeding the trolls . . .

  23. BeccaM says:

    Nice try. And what’s with this shift now to ‘Spanish speakers’? Do you understand you have just conflated two different groups? Hablo Español — does that make this red-headed Irish-ancestry gal part of your conflated group, too?

    If Republicans ‘get’ that Hispanic Americans are ‘natural conservatives’ — which is a stereotype, by the way — then why did Romney lose their vote by a 75-23% margin?

    By the way, rather than simply asserting your opinions and pointing to one article showing a shift from Catholicism to Evangalicism among some Hispanic faithful, how about some facts? Like these ones, documented here:

    There’s the fact that Hispanic voters favor Democratic party registration by 70 to 22. Or the 61% of Latino voters who say the Democratic party has more concern for them and their issues, while only 10% feel that way about the GOP. Or the fact that when polled, Latino voters actually felt that education, jobs and the economy, and health care were more important issues to them than even immigration, taxes, or the deficit — and in every case, they came down not on the conservative side of those positions.

    Somehow, I think you’re the one with the preconception that Hispanics and Latinos think like you do.

  24. vejo says:

    So nasty… Do you really think that your polls are infallible?

  25. vejo says:

    The point is that growing evangelicalism does not trend well for gay rights. Don’t you think that people who “poll” that they are for gay rights might possibly start changing their minds after they join a mega-church?

  26. FLL says:

    Wishful thinking is more a result of relying on emotion rather than on scientific data. Why do you think the Republicans were so off-target in November, while Nate Silver was so dead on target? Emotion vs scientific data. You seem to have an emotional investment in painting Hispanics as more anti-gay and more heavily evangelical than the non-Hispanic white population or the country as a whole, when the opposite is born out by a long history of polling data, including very recent polls.

  27. FLL says:

    Since you’re a resident of the Albuquerque area, BeccaM, I’ll trust your first-hand knowledge of your fellow New Mexicans.

  28. BeminDC says:

    I think you’ve shown you’re pretty ill-informed about this issue. Please read some of the very ample polling on increasing support for marriage equality before posting your misguided gut feelings about what Latinos are doing.

  29. vejo says:

    I think your preconception is that Spanish-speakers will think like you do. Don’t be do sure about that.

  30. UncleBucky says:

    I’m about ready to plotz. Not enough time left… Maybe the kids will see this… But…

  31. vejo says:

    The point is that more and more are becoming evangelical and leaving Catholicism behind. I also disagree that young evangelicals are “evolving quickly”. That sounds more like wishful thinking.

  32. BeccaM says:

    But-but-but, they got the dinner invitation! Isn’t that all that matters?!

    Yeah…That’s the most galling thing: They have the nerve to expect us to thank them for betraying us. Again.

  33. BeccaM says:

    Say what you really mean: “The polls don’t meet my preconceptions, so I’m going to decide they must be wrong.”

    This is why the GOP was so incredibly wrong about their prospects in the last election.

  34. BeccaM says:

    Jeebus pogo-jumpin’ Jehosephat… “Hey everybody, have some of this yummy cake. And guess what? Because we didn’t SPECIFICALLY exclude you gays and lesbians and transgendered folks, that makes it a GAY CAKE! Aren’t you so happy you could plotz!”

    How frickin’ stupid do they think we all are? Wait, no don’t bother answering that, we know exactly how stupid they think we are, otherwise they wouldn’t be handing out these pre-inserted knives in our collective backs, with a shit-sandwich appetizer. This isn’t just intellectually dishonest, it’s a calculated and deliberate slap in the face.

    Let’s be clear here: Without reforms that stop the DOMA-prompted anti-gay discrimination against bi-national couples who happen not to be heterosexual, there is no “gay immigration reform.”

    Even if DOMA is overturned, it would still take lawsuits and probably years of litigation before marriage equality managed to reach every fetid corner of federal law and regulation. For any who might suggest, yes, well, but then the President would be free to issue executive orders to fix all this, please remember: The president can already, under current law, issue an EO that would ban anti-gay discrimination among federal contractors and those who do business with the federal gov’t — and the current Democratic officeholder has already declined to do so.

  35. BeminDC says:

    I think Latino (the term most prefer, btw) young evangelicals are like other young evangelicals — evolving quickly on marriage equality. By the way, Latinos are very diverse — not all are evangelical. Remember also there are many “Catholic” countries like Argentina and Spain that are light years ahead of us on equality.

  36. vejo says:

    I’ve heard about those polls and I wonder how accurate they are. Hispanics are natural conservatives and the Republicans get that. Do you really think Hispanic evangelicals are pro-gay rights in the majority? Come on…

  37. FLL says:

    Every bill is a gay rights bill? That’s very funny. All right, let’s take that formula to its logical conclusion. Axe all of the Bush-era faith based initiatives, axe all of the programs designed to give female business owners opportunities they might not have otherwise had and axe all programs designed to help the elderly. We can just replace all three types of programs and initiatives with, for example, a road construction program and call it fair. Why not? Since Christian religious types and females and the elderly are all part of the population, every piece of legislation will benefit them, so a road construction program would take care of all three groups. Every bill is a faith-based initiative, every bill is a women’s rights bill and every bill is a bill for the elderly.

    Feels a little different when the shoe is on the other foot, doesn’t it? And now, for bonus points, let’s say some church-going little old lady in Alabama, who usually votes against gay rights because her preacher tells her to, was benefiting from all three types of programs: faith-based initiatives, programs for female small business owners and programs for the elderly. We’d be saving all sorts of money on her. That’s absolutely hilarious, right? But politicians started out by making jokes about every bill being a gay rights bill. Not so funny any more. Well, well, look who doesn’t have a sense of humor.

  38. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Schumer has never been trustworthy on gay rights, ever.

    Let’s recall what Elizabeth Birch had to say on this very blog just a few weeks back about Schumer:

    “As for then-Representative Schumer, his decision to support DOMA forced HRC (under our very clear Political Action Committee rules) to endorse his opponent in the 1998 New York US Senate race, incumbent Republican Senator Al D’Amato. Just before the DOMA vote, I explained to Representative Schumer exactly what would happen if he voted for DOMA: His record would be rendered less favorable than the incumbent, Senator D’Amato. Schumer looked me right in the eye and said: ‘Elizabeth, I gotta do what I gotta do,’ turned on his heel, and went straight onto the floor and voted for DOMA.”

  39. BeminDC says:

    I’m not supporting this straights-only immigration reform. LGBT people should be included in ALL legislation. How hateful are Catholic and evangelical immigration-reform groups who would scuttle the entire bill just because 36,000 binational couples are included? And shame on political homophobes like Schumer who are happy to go along with this. We won’t forget.

  40. BeminDC says:

    That’s kind of a stereotype — Latinos are actually very good on marriage equality issues in the polls.

  41. vejo says:

    Hispanics are joining evangelical churches in droves. These organizations are not pro-gay.

    See a recent issue of TIME for more info.

  42. Andrew says:

    So…..gay partners of American citizens get kicked out of the country while the people who came here illegally get to stay? How can that be okay with organization that calls itself an advocate for gay rights?

  43. Skeptical Cicada says:

    I have said before that if UAFA is stripped from the act, as it now has been, the gay community has to make a choice. Immigration reforms may help some gay undocumented immigrants, but leaving out UAFA poses egregious risks to binational gay couples. Leaving out UAFA might be acceptable if it meant merely preserving the status quo for binational gay couples. But it doesn’t. Draconian new enforcement mechanisms will make life untenable for binational gay couples if UAFA is not included in the bill.

    Two factors have resolved the choice for me. First is the patronizing, manipulative, and utterly insincere “happy talk” from double-crossing heterosexual immigration reform advocates, like Rep. Gutierrez, about gay-inclusion. Fuck them! Second is the standard, intelligence-insulting pressure from party hacks, administration apologists, and other assorted homo-sellouts to compliantly lie down under the bus for the straights-first Democratic Party. Fuck them!

    I will vigorously oppose any de-gayed immigration bill as an attack on gay families. How dare they toss us under the bus and then try to bully us into acquiescing in that homophobic mistreatment! Oh, hell no. They don’t get to have their anti-gay bigotry AND their gay support anymore. GET YOUR FUCKING SUPPORT ELSEWHERE. WE AREN’T ENDORSING OUR OWN SUBORDINATION.

  44. Sweetie says:

    “It’s a bit like inviting someone to dinner, only to inform them that
    they won’t be eating after all, but you’ll be happy to let them wash the


  45. Drew2u says:

    We got the national news outlets talking themselves blue over the Boston bombing, gun control, and a little about immigration. Things like UAFA, CISPA, HR900, and the sludge-poisoning are all able to be swept under the cacophonous roar of the deaf media.
    So for that, thanks for rising above the noise.

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