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VIEWPOINTS: Queer Immigration: Change the Paradigms
by Yasmin Nair

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The Uniting American Families Act ( UAFA ) is back in the news. Currently, heterosexual married citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their non-citizen spouses for immigration. The UAFA extends that privilege to same-sex binational couples, substituting the words 'permanent partner' for 'spouse' in the language of immigration law. Stories about binational couples emphasize that their relationships aren't considered as equal to those of married people.

The UAFA looks like a progressive cause. But whom would this law affect and how? Is this really a progressive idea whose day has come? Is it tied to a progressive/left vision around immigration reform?

I've written previously about immigration ( ) and the UAFA ( ) . Gay groups like Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Immigration Equality have cynically manipulated the topic of immigration reform in order to advance the cause of 'binational' couples. I have friends in binational relationships, and don't deny the real pain and anxiety they go through. The problem lies in the framing of the issue. The emphasis on documented couples as more deserving of protection undermines progress towards immigration reform that benefits all immigrants, undocumented or not, single or otherwise.

The UAFA is isolated from the larger immigration movement in its emphasis on the rights of American citizens/permanent residents to sponsor their documented partners. It places immigration in the realm of love and affect, separating it from the issue of exploited labor—which is at the heart of the current immigration crisis. Undocumented couples or undocumented immigrants with citizen partners will not benefit from the UAFA.

The language of the UAFA privileges retrograde relationships. Couples have to prove that they are 'financially interdependent' and 'intend a lifelong commitment.' Queer feminists should be appalled at such language. But more importantly: What do we know about how such interdependence works for straight couples?

Consider the case of Aalimah ( not her real name ) . She's here on an H-4 ( Dependent Visa ) because she came here with her husband, who has an H1-B ( Guest Worker Visa ) . The visa allows him to apply for permanent resident status for both of them. Her problem? She's a lesbian trapped in her marriage. She's been suicidal and depressed over her invisibility as a lesbian but can't get out of an intolerable situation. She can't find support within her South Asian community; she doesn't have the support of her family; and she's not economically independent. Remember that bit about financial interdependence? If you're on your spouse's H1-B, you can't get a social security number and you can't apply for jobs. Aalimah's best option is to be admitted to a University and start the long and slow process of establishing her professional credentials. But she'd need her husband's financial support.

And she's one of the lucky ones. In 2004, The Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper, reported on the physical and economic exploitation of women on H-4 visas ( ) . We might be tempted to dismiss such stories as indicative of bad cultural practices. But do we really imagine that queer US citizens or permanent residents are above the coercion and exploitation of their partners? Do we really think that this system, which gives such power to one person over another, is a good thing?

So why do we cling to these antiquated notions of family, love, and financial interdependence? Instead of asking why queer couples don't have the same privileges as married people, we ought to ask: Why do married people deserve those privileges over unmarried people in the first place? Why not advocate for a system that doesn't demand dependency but lets people enter and stay, or leave, on their own merits?

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 Chicago Reporter story about workers who're denied legally mandated medical coverage by bosses who exploit their fears of deportation ( ) . Consider Aalimah, who has the kind of visa status we'd want for queer immigrants. Consider asking your favorite gay advocacy group: How will you advocate for change even if and after the UAFA gets passed? We need to work on reform that matters to all of us, not just because it validates gay bodies and relationships. Our interest should lie in dismantling the status quo, changing the paradigms and asking for a more complex but more just world.

Yasmin Nair can be reached at . She also blogs at .

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City of Chicago immigrant reform plan unveiled 2015-08-20
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Trans immigrants in custody are subject of U.S. House briefing 2015-08-12
CLASP has new name, leadership 2015-07-31
Relationships & the Law Today: Immigration rights in era of marriage equality 2015-07-22
Anti-deportation rally held in Loop 2015-07-09
ICE announces updated guidelines regarding trans immigrants 2015-07-08
Update: Protesters arrested at White House 2015-06-30
Undocumented transgender woman interrupts President, calls for end to deportation 2015-06-24
Immigration Equality hosts fundraiser 2015-06-09
Task Force: Release all undocumented LGBTQ immigrants from detention 2015-06-01
Trans, queer immigrants demand ICE release LGBTQ detainees 2015-05-27
ICE, Homeland Security: End detention, deportation of LGBTQ migrants 2015-04-23
Darrow tribute focuses on immigration issues 2015-03-13
Darrow symposium: Undocumented laborers, immigration 2015-03-11
Clarence Darrow symposium to explore undocumented laborers, immigration 2015-02-25
Border crossing: Couple's story of love, marriage, immigration 2015-02-18
'Safe Home' for LGBTQI asylum-seekers in Chicago 2015-02-16
Immigration and LGBTQs: Inside ICE detention 2015-02-04
Immigration and the LGBT community: Inside ICE detention 2015-01-28
Immigration and LGBTQs: Immigrants tell their stories 2015-01-21
LGBT immigrants still face hurdles, Part one 2015-01-14
Immigration executive order praised, criticized 2014-11-26
LETTERS Immigration reaction 2014-11-26
Immigration reform executive order announced, groups repond 2014-11-21
President Obama announces immigration accountability executive action 2014-11-20
LGBT and civil rights groups: Don't exclude LGBT immigrants 2014-11-19
Open To Thinking: Immigration: Facts and Fictions 2014-11-05
CLASP fundraiser to finance more housing 2014-10-15
Nat'l LGBTQ leaders urge Pres. Obama, Congress to act on immigration 2014-09-10
Group: Obama's delay on immigration relief fails LGBTs 2014-09-07
LGBT, immigrant groups protest Ku Klux Klan rally 2014-08-07
Eychaner Foundation launches '1,000 Kids for Iowa' 2014-08-05
ALMA 'extremely disappointed' in House anti-immigrant crusade 2014-08-03
ALMA, LGBTQ Immigrant Rights to host DACA renewal info session 2014-07-24
Journalist Vargas detained; Lambda Legal's call 2014-07-22
Eychaner Foundation announces "1,000 Kids for Iowa" 2014-07-15
Immigration activists turn to LGBT marriage work for ideas 2014-07-05

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