Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Activists from a consortium of local and national organizations gathered Wednesday in downtown Boston to speak out in favor of a federal immigration policy that includes protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants.
As a bipartisan Senate group in Washington worked out details on an immigration bill that could be unveiled as soon as Thursday, the handful of activists stood outside the John F. Kennedy Federal Building to ask that the bill include not only a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the US illegally, but also protections for a group they said is especially vulnerable.
The Boston event was timed to coincide with a march in Washington and more than a dozen events in states around the country.
Sasha Kaufmann, co-leader of GetEQUAL Massachusetts, said that under current federal law, LGBT immigrants have a one-year deadline to seek asylum based on the danger of oppression or death as a sexual minority in their native countries, with little recourse once the deadline has passed.
“We are saying that it’s wrong to detain or deport someone who could face life-threatening situations in their home countries just because they missed a deadline,” said Kaufmann, 30.
Mario Rodas was one of those immigrants who missed the deadline. Brought to the United States from Guatemala by his parents at age 10, he spent his adolescence hiding both his sexuality and his legal status from his peers at Chelsea High School.
“On one side I was just like, being prepared [for] the next presentation, homework, a performance, whatever I needed to do,” said Rodas, 26.
“And then on the other side, I … was in the shadows, wondering what was going to happen in my future, what was I going to do in terms of going to college, not being able to go with my friends on trips outside of the country, or get a [driver’s] license, and so many other things that pretty much made me feel inferior,” he said.
He was eventually granted asylum based on his sexual orientation, though he faced difficulty because he had passed the one-year deadline at age 11.
Rodas, who is affiliated with the Student Immigration Movement and the Human Rights Campaign, said this is an exciting time for both immigration policy and gay rights issues. For the first time, Rodas said, the HRC, a powerful national gay rights group, has issued a policy statement in support of immigration reform with specific protections for immigrants with same-sex spouses or partners.
“I think it has taken us a long time to get here, but we are here now,” Rodas said.
Lily Huang is an immigrant rights organizer from Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor unions, immigrant groups, community organizations, faith groups, and student groups. She said the coalition supports a path to citizenship for all immigrants here illegally, an end to deportations, and workplace protections.
It also is in favor, she said, of the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that has been submitted in the House and the Senate that would give US citizens or permanent residents the right to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration.
“At the core of this is people, and families,” said Huang, 26. “If someone is undocumented, someone is LGBTQ at the workplace, they can face a lot of oppression. Employers can harass them, say that they’re going to call [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement], or bully them for their sexual orientation. And for us, we need to push that we want equal rights for everyone.”