i’m doing a little spring cleaning and i came across this essay that i wrote for a project a while ago. it seems pretty relevant right now so i figured i’d share it— 

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” Of all the quotes you will hear from Dr. King, this one may seem pretty boring. But it is the simplicity of truth that makes it so great. Nearly 50 years after he said these words, many still don’t have these basic freedoms.

What does equality look like? Dr. King spoke frequently and vociferously in public about issues of civil rights and social justice in this country. But it’s in the quiet moments where we pull away from the staging and the iconography and reveal the humanity of the man that we can find a deeper connection.

I recently came across this photo of Dr. King with his daughter from Time Magazine. King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta. King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. “One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.”

The idea of dashing a child’s hopes and introducing a world-shattering thought to such an innocent person is heart wrenching. For many binational same-sex couples, this is an ever-present reality for them as well. In a recent report published by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law, they estimated that as many as 40,000 same-sex couples could benefit if U.S. immigration law treated same-sex and different-sex couples alike. And these couples are raising nearly 25,000 children. 25,000 children who live in fear that one or both of their parents will be taken from their loving, stable homes.

Currently, none of the estimated 40,000 binational and dual non-citizen same-sex couples in the US are eligible to use the immigration mechanisms available to different-sex spouses. More than half of binational same-sex couples (53%) are categorically barred from pursuing permanent residency as a couple in either partner’s country of origin.

In the report, co-author Gary J. Gates says, “Our findings show that same-sex binational couples are present in all parts of the country and represent a diverse group of individuals from around the world.” Many of these couples are raising families and are contributing to the economic vitality of the country.

The Williams Institute findings are so important because these demographic studies provide a portrait of the portion of same-sex couples that have been or could be affected by U.S. immigration policy. This analysis offers information for policymakers as they consider changes in U.S. immigration law that would affect same-sex couples. And just as was the case with Dr. King and his daughter, it helps us to recognize what’s at stake for families and children across the country. These laws do not exist in an abstract vacuum- the full weight of equality can be felt by every committed couple who is separated from their partner and parent who has to tell his/her child that their love is not enough to hold the family together.

Unfortunately, under current law, lesbian and gay American citizens and lawful permanent residents are discriminated against and cannot sponsor their spouses or partners for immigration benefits. Immigration law does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, nor is there any recognition of non-marital relationship statutes that exist in several states like civil unions, civil partnerships, or registered domestic partnerships. This policy creates a variety of challenges for same-sex couples that include a U.S. citizen and a non-citizen, or noncitizen couples in which only one partner is a permanent resident. Some of these couples could be forced to separate if the non-citizen or nonpermanent resident partner is not able to legally remain in the country.

Though legally married, Cristina and Monica recently faced possible deportation or separation because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act denies same-sex couples immigration protections:  

Ultimately, Cristina and Monica were able to stop the deportation. Their case marked the first time since the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) November 17, 2011 announcement that a national “working group” had begun reviewing all cases currently pending in immigration courts that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has closed a deportation case involving a married same-sex couple. 

However, because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) excludes same-sex couples from marriage, binational same-sex couples by and large remain unable to keep their families together in the United States. American citizens in such relationships are unable to sponsor their foreign partner like other married couples are, and therefore, are needlessly separated from their loved ones. 

This report from the Williams Institute clearly shows that same-sex binational couples exist throughout the country, enriching our communities and forming the essential fabric of American life. How can we continue to deny “the equality and freedom of their spirits”?

What is the most important thing we can do this year to further Dr. King’s vision for America? One option is to support the Uniting American Families Act, which has been proposed in Congress to allow American citizens to sponsor their partner and stop separating families. Another is to get involved in the fight for fair and just immigration. 

To read the full report from the Williams Institute, visit: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/same-sex-couples-and-immigration-in-the-united-states/

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