December 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT Asian Americans lobby Congress for immigration reform
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Activists met with at least five House members, including gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance delivered more than 2,700 postcards to members of the U.S. House of Representatives last month as part of a stepped up lobbying campaign to push for immigration reform legislation.

In meetings with at least five House members, including gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a contingent of activists affiliated with the NQAPIA urged the lawmakers to push for a compromise immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in July.

“As the congressional session is nearing its close, NQAPIA is bringing voices of Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and our allies from across the country to keep the Congress’ attention focused on the need to fix the broken immigration system,” the group said in a statement.

“As Asian Americans, we know that the ability to keep our families together from an overly aggressive deportation system and a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, over 10 percent of which are from our communities, is at stake,” said Ben de Guzman, NQAPIA’s co-director.

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Ben de Guzman, co-director of NQAPIA, speaking at the NQAPIA Awards Gala last July. (Washington Blade file photo by Blake Bergen)

“We also know as LGBT people that what constitutes a family is also at stake, and the overly narrow definition of family is something we are all too familiar with,” de Guzman said. “We also fight for a humane immigration system that allows real opportunities for asylum seekers and reform that keeps people, especially transgender immigrants, out of harm’s way in the detention system.”

The bipartisan bill passed by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32, among other things, calls for a path to citizenship over a 13-year period for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

While optimistic over the Senate approval of the measure, immigration reform advocates encountered a setback in the House when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that the GOP-controlled House would not take up the bill. Instead, he said Republicans would introduce their own far more limited bill that would not include a provision to provide citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Most national LGBT advocacy groups have expressed support for the Senate bill and have joined immigration rights organizations, including NQAPIA, in calling on the House to pass the Senate measure.

However, some LGBT activists have expressed concern that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June overturning the main provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) might result in a decline in interest in immigration reform within the gay community. The Supreme Court ruling immediately ended the provision in DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized such marriages.

With the federal government now fully recognizing same-sex marriage, immigrant partners among bi-national gay and lesbian couples who for years were unable gain access to U.S. immigration rights now have the ability to become U.S. citizens just as their heterosexual counterparts can.

The discrimination against bi-national gay and lesbian couples brought about by DOMA had long been a rallying cry for the LGBT community to join the fight for overall immigration reform.

“We have seen a little loss of steam in the movement from the collective LGBT community,” de Guzman told the Blade as a result of the DOMA decision.

But he said NQAPIA was optimistic that strong allies like Rep. Polis would “keep the momentum” of LGBT community support for immigration reform moving forward.

“We’re also learning that new parts of the community used the [Supreme Court] decision not as an excuse to let up, but as an introduction to learning about other aspects of how immigration affects the LGBT community,” he said.

NQAPIA official Pabitra Benjamin said the group plans to organize more lobbying visits to Capitol Hill within the next few months to continue its push for immigration reform legislation.

De Guzman said members and supporters of NQAPIA and representatives of allied LGBT groups would be taking part on Friday, Dec. 6, in national “Fast for Families” organized by immigration rights groups to draw attention to what they believe is the urgent need for immigration reform legislation.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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