on the relation between queer and immigrant movements
for The Old Mole 9 June 2008
Certainly both groups have faced legislative attacks. Richard Fricker on Consortium News is only one of several recent writers to note what he calls a “surge of theocracy tinged with white racialism,” which he sees in a series of recent measures in Oklahoma.
But of course it’s not just Oklahoma.
In the last ten years, twenty seven states have held popular votes putting in place bans on same sex marriage, domestic partnership, or both. One of those in 2004 was Oregon’s Measure 36, recently upheld by the Marion County Court of Appeals.
This year, Measures 144 and 145 would, if qualified and passed, repeal Oregon’s domestic partnership legislation and remove sexual orientation from the list of grounds on which it is illegal to discriminate.
Oregon is also participating in the wave of anti-immigrant legislation. Ballot Measure 112, if qualified and approved, tighten immigration enforcement and entail tighter cooperation between local law enforcement and the federal bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I-C-E, or ICE. Abid Aslam reports for InterPress Service that more than 1,400 initiatives targeting immigrants have been introduced at state and local levels in the last year, compared to 1,300 in the past 10 years, and Hate crimes against Latin Americans have risen by 35 percent over the past four years.
We’ve also recently seen a surge of ICE raids targeting workers, including the one in Iowa last month that netted nearly 400 people—but has not resulted in any charges for their employers Immigration proceedings are up nearly 150 percent in the last 5 years, and in 2007 alone, more than 276,912 US residents were deported.
Community groups have noted that raids appear speculative and that many of those arrested have turned out to be victims of mistaken identity or have been released for various reasons—although not before being photographed, fingerprinted, interviewed, and generally harassed.
A recent edition of KBOO’s Friday radiozine featured an interview with Eric Ward of the Center for New Community , who noted that the groups targeting immigrants now have a larger anti-progressive agenda. In particular, debates on immigration are coded debates about race.
The current issue of Monthly Review includes more about that point in an essay from César Hernández titled “No Human Being Is Illegal: Moving Beyond Deportation Law.” As he puts it,
The border and the Border Patrol are children of the same xenophobia, justified by the pseudoscience of eugenics. In 1882 Congress responded to widespread hostility to Chinese immigrants by enacting the first law that effectively excluded all members of a particular nationality from the United States. By 1911 eugenics had gained so much support within policy-making circles that the Senate’s Dillingham Commission concluded that the country would be debased unless migration from southern and eastern Europe—mainly Italians, Jews, and Poles—was substantially curtailed. … In 1924, the federal government created the Border Patrol—the predecessor of today’s ICE and its cousin along the border, the Customs and Border Protection Agency…. Historically, immigration law has been used as a mechanism of social control…. According to what’s known as the plenary powers doctrine, immigration law and deportation procedures are quasi-judicial. Immigration courts and judges are part of the Executive Office of Immigration Review; they are not part of the federal court system. More fundamentally, immigration law lacks basic procedures commonly associated with judicial proceedings. Most notable among these are a lack of due process protections, a lack of protection against dispensation of disproportionate punishments for an illegal act, and a lack of legal representation in immigration proceedings…..The bifurcated regime that identifies some immigrants as “legal” necessarily designates others as “illegal.” These “illegal” residents become the perfect scapegoats for xenophobes who have converted them into criminals in the popular consciousness.
Moreover, just as the legal/illegal distinction is invidious, so too the citizen/noncitizen distinction breaks down when it comes to ICE raids. Jacqueline Stevens in latest issue of the Nation Magazine estimates that since 2004 ICE has held between 3,500 and 10,000 US citizens in detention facilities and deported about half of those. She writes, “US citizens are a small percentage of ICE detentions for this period, which totaled around 1 million, but in absolute terms the figure is staggering.” Indeed. Some 5,000 US citizens deported, some of them native-born, some of them mentally ill, none of them accorded due process.
And probably, some of them queer.
Kerry Eleveld noted a couple of years ago in the New York Blade that LGBT rights and immigrant rights have several practical points of convergence beyond disenfranchisement.
For instance, U.S. immigration policy essentially bars HIV-positive individuals from getting a green card or even a temporary visa unless they meet very strict criteria for a waiver. And Detention is particularly harsh for LGBTQ and HIV positive detainees. Rape, harassment, abuse, and denial of HIV treatment/hormone therapy are some of the routine forms of hardship that LGBTQ people face in detention.
Also, since LGBT immigrants cannot legally marry their partners, they do not have a path to legalization afforded to straight couples. One proposed remedy for that disparity would be the Uniting American Families Act.
But as Yasmin Nair has noted, “if we queers are really concerned about immigration, we need to stand with Immigration Rights activists and consider reform for the long term and for all. This means being critical of the rhetoric of “family reunification,” which privileges family and erases issues of labor. Consider the story about workers who're denied legally mandated medical coverage by bosses who exploit their fears of deportation. Consider asking your favorite gay advocacy group: How will you advocate for change even if and after the Uniting American Families Act gets passed? We need to work on reform that matters to all of us, not just because it validates gay bodies and relationships.”
Two years ago, the group Queers for Economic Justice, issued a Vision Statement on Queers and Immigration, noting that
Two of the most divisive issues in the United States today are those concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights and immigration. There is little discussion of how immigration is also an issue for queer people, and even less analysis of the structural similarities between queer and immigrant struggles. Queer immigrants are marginalized or invisible at the intersection of two identities. As a whole, more complex family structures—such as those of binational same-sex couples and extended families—are completely absent from the larger struggle for immigration reform. The immigrant advocacy movement places undue emphasis on heteronormative relationships and conceptions of normality in an effort to gain basic citizenship rights. The mainstream LGBTQ rights movement tends to focus on those immigrants who are partners of US citizens. This leaves out the predicament of, for instance, single people and/or those who do not define themselves within conventional relationships like marriage or conjugality. Both movements are depriving themselves of the power and strategic insights that LGBTQ immigrants can provide.
We call for an end to the stigmatization of queer individuals, the recognition of our varied, unique, and flexible kinship networks, the end of the restrictive and dangerous criminalization of migrant and queer communities, and an immigration reform package that puts progressive labor reforms into practice.
As César Hernández puts it, the left’s ultimate goal should be to replace the current model of immigration control with a radically different model premised on the inherent right to travel and thrive, even across borders.
This June, as we celebrate Pride month, and the resilience, resistance, and persisting presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other generally queer folks, we can remember Yasmin Nair’s point that our interest lies in dismantling the status quo, changing the paradigms, and asking for a more complex but more just world.