The draft immigration reform bill is a mixed bag for women and LGBTQ folks

Senator Schumer signs draft immigration reform bill

Senator Schumer signs the immigration reform bill draft.

Ed. note: This is a guest post from Verónica Bayetti Flores. Verónica is the Assistant Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) at Hampshire College. She has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color, and helped to lead social justice efforts in Wisconsin, New York City, and Texas.

In the wee hours of the morning yesterday, after much anticipation, we finally got a first draft of the immigration reform bill the Senate has been working on for the last few weeks. At 844 pages, this bill is trying to do the most, but it falls very short of the vision of justice for all immigrants that those who have been most demanding a national conversation on this issue – and I’m gonna give the DREAMers most of the credit on this one – have set forth.

Just a couple weeks ago, Juliana reminded us why immigration is a feminist issue. This reform is going to have huge repercussions on the lives of women and LGBTQ immigrants. So what are we looking at right now?

Maybe most importantly, the bill does include a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented people in the United States, which was pretty politically contentious, and no small victory considering its bi-partisan nature. The path is pretty rough, though, and it is filled with obstacles that will prove insurmountable to many. They way it works is this: undocumented folks will be able to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status, which will allow them to work and stay in the United States legally. To get this, though, folks will have to pay a pretty hefty fine and go through a stringent background check, meaning that even immigrants with a few minor run-ins with the cops will be completely barred from this process.

While this may seem reasonable to some at first glance, it’s important to remember that these things play out pretty clearly along lines of race, class, and gender. People of color, low-income people, gender non-conforming people, and particularly people who fall into several of these categories are at the highest risk of being not only stopped by the cops and convicted, but also of facing discrimination that shuts them out of legal employment – meaning that survival can depend on participation in criminalized economies like sex work or drugs. So from the get-go, we are seeing the most marginalized groups of undocumented immigrants being left behind. 

During the long path from RPI status to citizenship, low-income immigrants aren’t eligible for public assistance, like Medicaid or food stamps. And it’s not yet completely clear whether folks with RPI status will benefit from the provisions of the ACA, though it’s not looking good. In very real terms, this may mean 15 years of almost complete lack of access to basic health care – pap smears, birth control, hormones, basic physicals. What’s more, the RPI status must be renewed after 6 years, at which time people will have to go through what’s called a public charge determination – i.e. they will try to determine if the person renewing is likely to become a “public charge” or a drain on society. Getting older? Developed a chronic illness? You may be out of luck! Because in this ableist society, we only deem people worthy in terms of how much capital they are able to produce.

The bill does include some important victories, not the least of which is the provision for DREAMers, which includes no age cap. This means that a person who came here before the age of 16 and has met the requirements of the DREAM Act can apply for an accelerated path to citizenship – as little as five years – regardless of their age currently. The bill also includes some really important family reunification provisions that allow immigrants who have been deported but still have immediate family in the United State to apply for RPI status, and attempts to safeguard against the loss of children of deported immigrants to the foster care system. This is a huge victory, and is in no small part due to the work by and for immigrant women and families.

Of course, the way that “family” is defined is your average heterosexist bullshit, and the bill does not include any language allowing folks to petition their same-sex partners. I do want to push back, however, on the notion that there is nothing here for LGBTQ immigrants. LGBTQ folks are not only valid insofar as we are partnered, and many, many LGBTQ folks could benefit from immigration reform – even one that does not include petitions for same-sex partners. Possibly more of a concern to the most marginalized LGBTQ immigrants is not whether their partner will be able to petition them, but rather the ways that enforcement efforts may target them disproportionately. And damn, is there enforcement! This bill has billions of dollars allocated to enforcement–from enhancement of current border security operations to increased inter-agency collaboration to drones–which is a blog post in and of itself.

As you might imagine, there is so much more in this bill that I haven’t gotten to, and a ton of issues that affect women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color that I have only barely touched on. Colorlines has some really great and up-to-the-minute coverage and analysis of the bill, and as issues come up and I have more time to look at this monster of a bill, I’ll keep you updated on what I’m seeing there as well.

Of course, what this bill is not meant to deal with is the root cause of this issue – a disastrous U.S. foreign policy that keeps the global south so poor that folks have to leave home for a place where so many people hate them just to survive and provide for their families. But that’s a conversation for another day!

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