Tuesday, May 7, 2013

my thoughts on UAFA and if religious communities should and can support it

by kati baruja

(i could just skip writing these words altogether and copy and paste here the list of religious organizations that ALREADY support it, which you can find at: http://immigrationequalityactionfund.org/legislation/faith_coalition_for_uafa/)

last night my partner (spouse, wife, depends on what country or state you're in...) attended a meeting of a faith coalition (made up of churches, synagogues, NGOs) of which she is a member, as the representative of our church.  this coalition has as its specific goal to work towards greater justice in immigration and for immigrants.  as we all know, that's a hot topic right now.  for the last few meetings, the group has been working on its response to the bill that's recently been introduced into the senate, and wanted to get a member consensus on its statement in response to this bill.

esther spoke with one of the moderators of the group a few days ago and asked why the coalition hadn't considered voicing their support for UAFA, or the Uniting American Families Act.  this is planned to be introduced as an amendment to the senate bill, and would allow US citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes.  this has been somewhat of a focus of ours for many years now, so you've probably heard me or someone else railing about it already.  essentially, US citizens have to choose between their country and their loved one, because there is no way whatsoever for an LGBT person to sponsor their foreign-born partner to get a visa.  literally no way.  this means couples and families in our community live either undercover in fear, or involuntarily exiled to other nations. 

UAFA as a stand-alone bill has been introduced for years and years now, but there is honestly good reason to suspect it might have a good chance this time around; not least of all because REAL immigration reform is finally being discussed and we should by all rights be included in that comprehensive reform.  we have champions in the senate committees and on the floor who can introduce UAFA as an amendment, co-sponsor it, and vote for it.  we actually have a chance to gain our just rights.

(sorry for that long aside, but wanted to get you the basic facts in case you hadn't heard of UAFA).

back to my story.  esther wanted the faith coalition that she is a part of to also support UAFA and our family's rights.  before the meeting, she went back and forth with the leaders of the group who felt that it would be a tough sell (it being a religious coalition and all).  the specific group leader who she spoke with about it all week really is an ally and understood where esther was coming from, but, i suspect, knew what the outcome might be and might have wanted to spare esther that experience. but she did in the end put it in the meeting agenda, to her total credit, even though it may have created tension between her and some other members. she got them to the stage to have a vote on it, because esther asked that her wishes be respected at least in that way; that her voice be heard even if no one was to agree with it.  i'm thankful for that, at least. 

now we get to the crux of my story.  at the meeting, the group discussion went around and around in circles for an hour and a half, esther told me, to avoid having the vote at all.  they tried to convince her it wasn't a vital part of this bill, that it wasn't necessary to vote on yet since it hadn't even become part of the bill yet, etc.  i understand the difficulty and where they're coming from, as the representatives from each religious community could only assume that most of their congregations would not support same-sex immigration rights.  however.  though i understand their thought process, i absolutely 100% believe they were wrong not to support esther and UAFA. and to use what is rapidly becoming a cliched phrase but is still deadly true--history will judge them.

so what did these religious representatives say, to explain why they don't support/discourage others from supporting our rights?

1. they argued that the whole entire package of immigration reform won't pass if we insert language about same-sex families; it can threaten the larger community's chances of getting justice.  TWO THINGS wrong with this.  one, and i know i am not an immigrant here, so i'm just projecting, but i find it hard to imagine the great masses of immigrants who protest and march for reform saying anything like "i want my justice at the expense of yours".  maybe i'm too idealistic here, but i believe people who really know what it means to be shut out would not have taken so lightly a decision to shut out another group. 

the other issue with this is summed up in quotes from the senator from florida, marco rubio.  he's been quoted all over the place for the past few days and weeks saying that adding UAFA would essentially kill the bill, as bi-partisan support would break down and it would not get the support it needs when it goes to the floor. 

does anyone else notice the argument he's actually making?  this isn't a democrat talking about what republicans will do or a republican talking about what democrats will do.  dude is talking about HIMSELF and his party.  he isn't saying "this amendment will spontaneously, inherently, instinctively make this bill fail", because that isn't physically possible; a bill is not a living organism that does things, it's an idea that has things done TO it.  so what he's really saying is "this amendment will make this bill fail because I WON'T VOTE FOR IT THEN."  that's it.  that's all he's saying.  it's not some magic formula that we have to balance to make it work.  it's HIS decision if he removes his support for 11 million undocumented immigrants just because we threw in 28,000 same-sex bi-national couples.  give me a freaking break.  if the bi-partisan coalition breaks down it's because HE decides to break it down.  how does no one see this?

and how are we letting him bully us into voting for something we know isn't right?  now.  if we're using this just as an excuse, and we actually DON'T agree with LGBT folks having the same rights as straight people, then just say that.  don't blame it on politicians.

AND if that is the case, you still don't think LGBT people should have the same rights as everyone else—what century are you in? we're not talking about religious doctrine. we're not even talking about 'gay marriage'. we're just saying each US citizen should be able to bring their spouse to live in their country. WHY are there people against this? i would love to hear a logical explanation for this.

2. they argued that there was no reason to even debate this point yet since it's not even added into the bill yet.  TWO THINGS about this one too.  first of all--it was just added as an amendment!  literally TODAY senator leahy from vermont got it in there.  he's been UAFA's greatest supporter for years, said he would do it, and did it.  oh yeah, and he's also the chairman of the judiciary committee, where the bill is now.  we're in!!!

secondly.  let's say it hadn't been added yet.  that should in no way mean it's not worth talking about.  in fact, it's the opposite.  the more an issue is talked about, the more chance it has of getting a lawmaker's attention and getting into proposed legislation.  if no one ever talked about it, no congressperson would ever bother to address it.  all these years that the immigrant community in general spoke up for its rights, did anyone ever say, 'well, there's no bill out there yet, so no need to bring it up."  NO.  of course not.  this argument displays a lack of understanding about how new legislation bubbles up from constituents and thus reaches the lawmakers.

3. they argued (and almost chastised) esther, saying that "other groups are excluded too!".  this is likely completely true.  the financial restraints will surely prohibit many from taking the path to citizenship.  the prohibition on people with 3 misdemeanors (i believe) can absolutely be argued to not be morally or constitutionally right.  but what is the point of saying this to her?  i tend to think in (overly simplified) metaphors, and it made me imagine someone screaming from the waves "help, i'm drowning!!" and the lifeguard calling back from his chair, "what are you whining about, so are a bunch of other people!"....but not actually moving to help any of them.  right??

4.....there are LOTS of other reasons that people use to remove or decline support for our families.  i can't really debate the 'based on religious beliefs' ones and i won't attack the 'i'd get kicked out of my church if i supported you' ones because i can't make those decisions for other people.  but i'll just state the obvious--we lost our faith communities because of this issue.  we lost our jobs, homes, friends, colleagues because we came out.  wouldn't it be just the epitome of christ-like-ness if you walked alongside us in this, as well? if you stuck by what you believed to be justice even if doing so affected you?


i have (fortuitously) been taking an online class in immigration history from coursera/Emory University that just started last week, and one of the things i am learning is that the history of US immigration policy is pretty much based around keeping people out.  national origin quotas, literacy requirements, etc.  one horrific and blatant example is the Chinese Exclusion Act, in place for decades and decades around the turn of the 20th century.  you just weren't allowed to immigrate if you were chinese, period.  guess what?  i'm just not allowed to bring my spouse if i'm LGBTQ, period.  what if we were back in the 1920s (for example) and esther was a chinese person having this debate with them.  what if the coalition had said (nicely, even), we just can't support chinese immigration right now, because it might torpedo the rest of our chances.  you understand, don't you?  but wait, hey, where are you going?.....

when esther got up to leave last night, they criticized her and asked how she could leave; there was so much more to do.  this was after they BLOCKED the vote on her request because it just wasn't important enough to them.  she looked them in the eyes and explained how they had essentially just kicked her out.  esther is only in this country because she won the Diversity Visa lottery, a game of chance.  so if she hadn't won that?  she'd be one of the thousands of people who can't come live in the States with their loved one because there simply is NO WAY to sponsor them.  so when this coalition last night declined to care about or support this issue, they came down on the side of the law that would have kept her out.  period. 

esther was (we believe) the only female, queer immigrant in the room (and likely one of very few immigrants at all).  they silenced her voice, drove her out, belittled her feelings, and made a decision that would have resulted in her literally not being able to live in the US were it not for a lucky break. 

i don't think either of us expected any other outcome, but we're allowed to be angry anyway, right?  the legislative committee of the state of california that supported the original Chinese Exclusion Act made the following statement: "the Chinese are inferior to any race God ever made...[and] have no souls to save, and if they have, they are not worth saving."  as i said, i'm not surprised exactly, that there are still those out there who think LGBTQ souls and families aren't worth what others are....but no one likes to hear it, frankly.