Call for LBGT-Inclusive Immigration Reform Resonates in New York

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New York's elected officials and LGBT organizations rally in support of immigration reform that includes everyone, regardless of sexual orientation

U.S. immigration laws prohibit same-sex couples from sponsoring partners or spouses for residency, a measure presently afforded to straight couples.

New York elected officials joined LGBT activist groups last week at a forum to call for Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill sponsored by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, which would give same-sex spouses the same immigration benefits for which straight couples are eligible.

U.S. Senators are in the process of reforming immigration practices for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. According to Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, at least 267,000 of those undocumented immigrants are a part of the LGBTQ community.

"We must ensure that our policies work to strengthen and support families of all varieties, and that our laws stabilize ? and never undermine ? families, community or our economy," said Nadler in a statement.

The forum was organized by Immigration Equality and Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization, and the largest immigrant organization in New York, which takes a holistic approach to empowering Latino and working class communities in the City.

An additional measure which impacts LGBT immigrant populations particularly hard is the one-year deadline for filing for asylum in the U.S. Many LGBT individuals come to the U.S. fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, only to face a renewed fear of homophobia and of authority figures, which threatens to send them back to the dangerous living conditions from which they fled.

State Senator Daniel Squadron explained why the rallying cry for equality is so loud in New York. "New York - and our nation - have always been and must remain a gateway to opportunity for all who seek it," he said at the forum at New York City's LGBT community center. "But that opportunity can't be contingent on who a person loves."

Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT community center, explained that the center sees thousands of LGBT immigrants seeking support. The center is able to provide some measure of assistance, but only Congress can change the laws to protect them, she noted. She added that this population faces particular challenges, echoing a statement by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that undocumented families with LGBT individuals are "twice-vulnerable."

Nadler explained passing UAFA is one way to begin ending discrimination against LGBT populations at the federal level.

In applauding a move by President Obama back in January in support of LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, Nadler said: "For 11 million immigrants who are stuck in the margins of the law, for tens of thousands of bi-national LGBT families caught in immigration purgatory, and for the many seeking to make an honest go at the American Dream, these principles of immigration reform are tremendously important."

"Even if you don't support same-sex marriage," he said. "You should recognize that government should not be gratuitously cruel."

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