A crowd of more than 200 mostly Latino teenagers and young adults cheered at a Capitol Hill church on Tuesday as a lesbian bi-national couple exchanged marriage vows at an annual event organized to promote passage of immigration reform legislation pending in Congress.
The decision by organizers of the 2013 Annual DREAM Act Graduation Ceremony to include a same-sex wedding as part of the event held at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation was viewed by activists as a sign of solidarity between the LGBT community and the U.S. immigration reform movement.
“We are working for the rights of all Americans, and whether you are straight or gay or bisexual or whatever your national origin or religion, our country draws its strength from our diversity,” gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) told the gathering.
“And together we are one, and everyone here is part of that very special country that we live in,” Polis said. “And it’s only a matter of the paperwork catching up.”
Polis spoke to the gathering shortly before Prerna Lal, an immigrant from the Republic of Fiji who recently graduated from George Washington University Law School, and her American born partner, Lindsay Schubiner, were joined in marriage in a ceremony at the church altar.
Lal told the Blade after the ceremony that U.S. immigration authorities had begun deportation proceedings against her due to her undocumented status. With the Supreme Court overturning the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and she and Schubiner obtaining a marriage license, the deportation proceedings will be halted, Lal said.
“My parents brought me from the Island of Fiji when I was 14 years old,” she said in recounting her lengthy saga to remain in the U.S. “We settled in the Bay Area of California. I grew up there. I went to high school there. I went to college and graduate school there,” she said.
“My parents got their papers eventually but I was aged out of the process,” she said, noting that under a quirk in the immigration law, she was no longer eligible for permanent residence status even though her parents were because she was older than 21.
“I moved to D.C. to go to law school and to become an immigration lawyer and fight my case,” Lal said. “And in the middle of that I met Lindsay and we started living together and I fell in love. And so she asked me to marry her.”
Lal and Schubiner, a policy adviser on health and immigration issues, each said they plan to continue their work in the D.C. area to push for immigration rights for others.
“I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate my union with Prerna here today with everyone,” Schubiner told the Blade. “We’re so blessed to be able to spend our lives together and we finally have all the rights that we deserve,” she said.
“And now we’re going to spend the rest of our time making sure everyone has all of those rights regardless of marital status and regardless of immigration status.”
D.C. immigration attorney Andres Benach, one of the organizers of the event at which Lal and Schubiner were married, said the gathering has served each year as a symbolic graduation ceremony for the children of undocumented immigrants who themselves are undocumented.
Although many have graduated from high school they often are blocked from enrolling in college because they are ineligible for student loans due to their undocumented status. The DREAM Act, among other things, would lift the ban on student loans for undocumented immigrants.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance and Dream Activist.org, youth led groups that advocate for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform legislation, are the lead sponsors of the Dream Act Graduation event.
Polis noted that the Obama administration recently put in place a federal policy directive temporarily halting the deportations and providing work permits for DREAM Act-eligible students.
But opposition to the directive by immigration reform opponents in the House of Representatives raised concern among immigration reform advocates that the deportations could resume if the House doesn’t pass a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill approved by the Senate earlier this year.
Rachel Tiven of Immigration Equality has led efforts by that group to push for federal legislation allowing partners of bi-national same-sex couples to obtain legal immigration status. Now that the Supreme Court ruling overturning DOMA has brought about that objective, Tiven said Immigration Equality will continue to work for comprehensive immigration reform that covers both LGBT people and everyone else.
“That’s why we’re so proud to be here today,” she told the gathering. “We will fight all the way to the end until every person can live their life and their full potential in freedom and safety in this country.”
Polis urged those attending the event to redouble their efforts to persuade the House of Representatives to pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate.