This week, the Senate introduced a bill on comprehensive immigration reform, taking our national conversation on this issue to the next level. With legislative battles already being waged on the budget and gun violence, this bill enters an arena fraught with competing issues, but the national tragedy in the wake of the bombings at the Boston marathon tests the limits of our ability to keep focus and ”legislatively multitask.”
For the 25 years I’ve cared about this issue as a voting member of the electorate, and the more than a dozen years I’ve worked on it as an advocate in Washington, this political debate has suffered from two perhaps understandable, but surmountable, blind spots. On one hand, the almost exclusive focus on the Latino community has prevented other voices from entering the fray in a way that is heard meaningfully. At the same time, within the LGBT community, the discussion around immigration reform has focused primarily on the issue of binational couples and the ability for U.S. citizens to petition their same sex partners. The perception that too many LGBT immigrants and advocates are left with, even if not intended, is unmistakable – that immigration reform only matters to the LGBT community if it affects those of us who are citizens.
As Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), we know the impact that immigration has on all our communities. With a population that is 60 percent foreign-born, we know the stakes are high for us. Unfortunately, we also know that our voices are often ignored in too many policy debates, and the current legislative traffic jam threatens to further distract attention to the perspectives we bring on these issues. We know that one of the key factors associated with the current momentum on immigration is the reckoning of the power of the Latino vote, even though AAPIs voted if not in equal numbers, in equal measure, to oppose anti-immigrant candidates. We know all of this and, rather than stand idly by, we choose to stand and fight. Here in the nation’s capital, drawing the line in the sand is even more important as we bring local voices to the national debate. We stand, as we have stood, in solidarity with the Latino communities and immigrant-rights advocates that are working on these issues, and insist on the clarity of our own voices as well.
In that spirit, a collaboration of local and national AAPI organizations are hosting ”Uplifting All Voices: A Call for a More Inclusive Immigration Reform Debate” The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) joins its local member Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters (APIQS), as well as the D.C. chapters of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF-DC) and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA-DC) in bringing a variety of issues to the fore that have not been sufficiently covered in mainstream public discussions about comprehensive immigration reform, from AAPI perspectives that have been similarly ignored. Speakers will tell their personal stories, as immigrants, as queers, as victims of domestic violence, as workers, that reveal even more cracks in the broken immigration system.
Jose Antonio Vargas, the openly gay undocumented journalist whose story gained national attention in the ”Define American” campaign, calls himself ”a walking uncomfortable conversation.” The media coverage his work has garnered, including the cover of Time magazine, has given him a platform to have these conversations in public ways too many of us don’t get to have. As the nation embarks on the latest leg of its immigrant journey, we are proud to stand with our brother Jose and the other 11 million aspiring citizens. The time is now to pass commonsense immigration legislation that provides an inclusive and fair pathway to citizenship, reunites families including those with LGBT members, protects workers, and recognizes the unique needs of immigrant women.
We hope you’ll join us at the forum as we hope to uplift all our voices to fix the broken immigration system.
Ben de Guzman is the co-director for programs for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. For more information on the forum, visit the Facebook page. RSVP at Eventbrite.