Immigration Equality hosted a fundraiser, "Still Fighting: New, Safe Beginnings for LGBTQ Immigrants" June 4 at the Center on Halsted.
Immigration Equality has been, according to its website, "proud to support and represent LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants seeking safety, fair treatment and freedom since 1994. As the only LGBT organization with a staff of immigration attorneys, Immigration Equality impacts both the individuals we serve and the immigration system as a whole."
About 40 people attended the event, which was co-hosted by Paul Coyle, Morris Floyd, Brent Holman-Gomez and Mike Jarecki.
The evening featured an introduction by Coyle; a video presentation featuring one of Immigration Equality's clients, Denise Chambers ( a transgender woman from Trinidad ) and remarks by the executive director of Immigration Equality, Caroline Dessert.
Coyle noted that Immigration Equality provides life saving services for people in need.
"It's amazing to be a part of an organization that really changes people's lives," said Coyle.
In the video, Chambers chronicled her journey including the fact that it took five years to win asylum in the United States. She also spoke about the role that Immigration Equality played in winning her asylum.
Dessert spoke about growing up in a rural Southern California border town where not only were undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, LGBT people like herself were also living in the shadows. Even at an early age, Dessert knew she would have to leave her hometown in order to live an open, authentic life as an out lesbian.
Immigration checkpoints and border patrol vehicles were a daily presence in Dessert's early life, and she saw a number of undocumented immigrants being rounded up and put into vehicles never to be seen again. Dessert noted that, as a little girl, she knew this was no way to treat human beings.
"I saw a system stacked against LGBT people and immigrants, and as a young woman of color I needed a way outnot just for me but for the whole community," Dessert said. "So I became an activist and organizer and then I became a lawyer focused on bringing justice to marginalized people."
Dessert spoke about the work that Immigration Equality is doing to increase their presence around the country so they can serve more clients. She noted that they are serving 100-percent more clients today than they served in 2013 and they've had a 98 percent win rate. There are currently open cases in 25 states including Illinois, said Dessert. Dessert explained that in order to reach LGBT immigrants in rural areas or remote detention centers they've launched a first of its kind pro se program to educate and empower LGBT immigrants to represent themselves.
Immigration Equality is also working on policy issues including providing recommendations to the White House for comprehensive LGBT inclusive immigration reform, said Dessert. Dessert noted that she recently met with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to speak about reforming the immigration detention system especially as it pertains to LGBT immigrants who face a higher rate of persecution in those detention facilities than their straight counterparts. As a result of that meeting, Dessert said that LGBT detention issues are now on Johnson's agenda. She noted that media outlets are also helping to put this issue out into the public eye.
Following Dessert's remarks, Holman-Gomez noted that Immigration Equality will be participating in this year's Chicago Pride Parade and encouraged everyone to sign up to march in the parade with them.
See www.immigrationequality.org for more information .