On Oct. 5, I was one of the thousands of voices in a national chorus. Across 80 cities, we mobilized for the National Day for Dignity and Respect on behalf of our nation’s 11-million undocumented men, women and children — saying the time for comprehensive, compassionate immigration is now. Back in 2008, I watched other immigrants like me come out of the shadows. After spending more than half of my life in the shadows myself, I decided to join them. Now, as a gay DREAMer I stood up on Oct. 5 to say to the 267,000 who are undocumented and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, that the country we love shouldn’t make us live in two closets anymore.
We are massing by the thousands — gay and straight, undocumented and citizens, labor and business, left and right — across America so our voices together won’t get lost in the din of politics or posturing. We want nothing less than an achievable path to eventual legal status for 11-million aspiring citizens, including the 267,000 LGBT immigrants among us.
Poll after poll shows the American voters — including a majority of Republicans — are with us. We want our broken immigration system to be fixed, a balanced approach to reform and a path to citizenship. That’s why the Senate passed a bipartisan bill back in July, which, while far from perfect, should have paved the way for continued momentum on behalf of this urgent issue.
Instead, immigration reform has become a political football as it moved to the House. Leaders — including those who trumpet the importance of family — have stood idly by as 1,100 immigrant families are torn apart by deportations each day. But this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would bring a comprehensive immigration bill to her colleagues in the House.
LGBT immigrants like myself face unique challenges, like the inability to gain citizenship for our spouses in most states. That’s why Equality Pennsylvania is supporting the bipartisan Senate bill that includes several provisions that would be particularly beneficial for the LGBT community. The bill would eliminate the one-year bar on applying for asylum; improve the conditions for people held in detention facilities; and limit the use of solitary confinement, prohibiting the use of this practice based solely on a detainee’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s not enough to offer undocumented immigrants work permits instead of full citizenship. That approach would relegate millions of people to a permanent underclass. It’s not enough that you address the status of immigrant youth only, ignoring their families and friends who must continue to live in fear.
This is the best chance we’ve had in a generation to pass common-sense immigration reform. It’s good policy: It modernizes our immigration system so it’s safe, legal, orderly and humane. It’s also good economics: A Congressional Budget Office report shows that reform will grow our economy and reduce the deficit by almost a trillion dollars over two decades. And it’s good politics: Democrats want reform to show they can deliver. Republicans need reform to get right with Latino, Asian, immigrant, youth and independent voters. The country wants to know that both parties can work together to tackle tough challenges and get things done.
We have a historic opportunity to get it done and get it right. We are on the right side of history. Will you join me as we say all Americans, aspiring and citizen alike, are deserving of dignity and respect?
Omar Garcia came to the United States with his family from Mexico more than a decade ago and now lives in Harrisburg, working three jobs and volunteering to promote immigrants’ rights. Omar is 23 years old.