LGBT Immigrants: ‘Don’t Let Us Lose This DREAM’

Immigration reform is neglecting many thousands of undocumented LGBT residents. Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez wants to change that.

dream demonstrator
Ricky Campos, 23, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador now living in Silver Spring, Maryland, demonstrates in front of the White House in Washington last summer. (Photo: Daniel C. Britt/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez was 14 years old when he came to Miami to live with relatives. His mother back in Brazil was ill and thought her son would have a better life in Florida. Indeed, the boy flourished, completing high school and community college in the city, even finding the love of his life. Sousa-Rodriguez got married last May in Massachusetts. The wedding would have gone a long way toward legalizing his immigration status if not for one thing: His spouse is a man.

Because of DOMA, I can’t be legalized because of my sexual orientation,” Sousa-Rodriguez tells TakePart.

DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages, which effectively denies things like Social Security survivors’ benefits and filing joint tax returns to gay spouses.

“Immigration is a federal benefit. That means that LGBT people won’t be able to benefit” from immigration reform, says Sousa-Rodriguez, who is now a spokesman and national field director for GetEQUAL, a gay rights group. “It’s perceptual legal hell.”

As immigration reform retakes its place in the national spotlight in Washington, GetEQUAL is trying to raise awareness that the proposed reforms, even ones embraced by advocates for undocumented U.S. residents, won’t go far enough. For instance, a legalization proposal being floated by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), which would offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants and include a path to citizenship, ignores the LGBT community, says Sousa-Rodriguez.

“We’re calling for him to include LGBT families in the immigration package he’s working on,” Sousa-Rodriguez says. “The entire [immigration] system is based on family. Because of that circumstance and because LGBT families are [treated as if they are] not equal, our families are not recognized by the law in the United States. It puts LGBT immigrants in a vulnerable position.”

With a marriage equality case being considered by the Supreme Court and several states passing amendments to legalize same-sex marriage last year, Sousa-Rodriguez expects the LGBT community to focus more of its attention on immigration reform.

“I think that the LGBT movement right now is looking to shift and put its resources behind immigration reform,” he says. “There are plenty of undocumented LGBT people.”

Should LGBT activists commit more resources to obtaining DREAM benefits for undocumented LGBT residents? There is room for pros and cons in COMMENTS.

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