Undocuqueer activists opened up to an audience of fifty at CSU Long Beach to discuss the ways in which their undocumented and queer identities, experiences, and dialogues will shape immigration policy in the upcoming year.
With the reelection of Obama the talks at a local and national level are unfolding regarding an immigration policy project in 2013 with the president himself making a statement that his administration will present something as early as January.
Over the past couple of years as the voices of young folks have strengthen to demand a just policy for immigrants across the nation, a number of these have come out of the shadows not once, but twice. They have been public about both their undocumented and queer identities to families, friends, and the general public with empathetic and hostile reactions.
This year the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals granted temporary protection from deportation to about 1.4 million individuals who were brought to the United States as young as a year old. Some interpret this as a step in the right direction while others see this as a temporary solution with a need to establish a path to citizenship for the 11.1 undocumented individuals currently residing in this country.
Miguel Montalva, an organizer with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coaliton along with Claudia Ramirez and Tony Ortuno, two CSULB alumnae and long-time activists were part of the panel that opened up about their double coming out process, their involvement in the queer immigrant movement, and the work ahead of them.
“Undocuqueers have always been at the forefront of the immigrant youth movement. We’ve looked into the Civil Rights movement and the LGBTQ movements to push our movement forward. I feel like undocuqueers are challenging the dominant ideology of what it means to be a Dreamer; the narrative has been single issue and undocuqueers are pushing forward and saying we don’t live single-issue lives” says Ramirez.
The panel opened with a presentation by Dr. Zentgraf, professor of Sociology and co-coordinator of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC).
“On the surface, the modern gay rights and the current immigration movements may seem like very dissimilar issues. We have the same opponents; those who are deathly afraid of the changing complexion of our country. They are going to talk about how gays and lesbians destroy families and confuse children. They are going to talk about how immigrants destroy the economy and steal jobs” said Dr. Zentgraf.
She reviewed past and current immigrant policing policies that, for the most part, have historically discriminated against members of the LGBTQ community.
“Until 1990 immigrants who came to the U.S. were denied entry if they voiced that they were homosexual. Currently, one of the most prevalent exclusions is in the area of family immigration law. Immigration law refuses to recognize same sex couples. The vast majority of people who migrate to the United States do soon a family visa” said Zentgraf.
According to her, across the United States there are around 36,000 LGBTQ bi-national couples who cannot petition their partners under the current state of family immigration law leaving them at risk of continued exclusion and deportation.
In addition to these institutional barriers Montalva also commented on the difficulties they face coming out as LGBTQ to their own families and immigrant communities.
“My mom did not acknowledge my queer identity,” Montalva said. “She said if you show what you are, you know you’re going to lose all of your support. So far it’s the elephant in the room that is not really addressed.”
He is currently working in partnership with The Gay and Lesbian Center of Long Beach to keep this dialogue going in spaces that have yet to address head-on the interconnection between these two movements to make them stronger.
Next year The Center, along with LBIRC, hope to host a series of workshops to train staff on the mental health issues faced by undocumented individuals.
“Part of this includes a training on the on the struggles of undocumented and queer folks. In a way to provide them with an understanding on how policy may affect undocuqueer people differently than it would regular queer folks” Montalva explained.
This is part of the Collective of Immigrant Resilience through Community Led Empowerment (CIRCLE) Project that will also bring community talking circles to The Center so that immigrant youth share their experiences and support each other through storytelling and courageous conversation.
For more information on The CIRCLE Project you can contact Miguel at [email protected]