The undersigned transgender service and advocacy organizations join to state their support for common sense immigration reform efforts that address the issues faced by undocumented transgender immigrants. (see also: Why trans & immigrant rights?)
An estimated 20,000 transgender adults in the US are undocumented, and thousands of transgender youth (see also: Dreamers’ Stories) who came to the US at an early age also lack legal status. In addition, thousands of transgender American citizens have immigrant partners or other family members who have been or may be separated from them by our immigration laws. Among a population that is highly marginalized, transgender immigrants are among the most vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Our current immigration laws, together with pervasive discrimination against transgender people, force transgender immigrants to live in dual shadows.
Many transgender immigrants came to the US to escape severe and often life-threatening persecution because of who they are. Others came fleeing desperate poverty; still others arrived at a young age with family members and have grown up in the United States. Transgender immigrants work hard to support themselves and their families, and make the best of the circumstances created by a broken immigration system and lingering prejudices against trans people. Yet among a transgender population that is already marginalized, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey shows that undocumented transgender people face even higher risks of discrimination and violence in employment, housing, health care, and when seeking various services. Trans immigrants often have nowhere to turn, find themselves shut out of jobs or education that could provide them with better opportunities, are denied the right to seek asylum or to be sponsored by a partner, and are thus subject to detention in inhumane and dangerous conditions. Given these factors, any vision of Comprehensive Immigration Reform and equality for transgender people must include ensuring security and safety for trans immigrants.
No single change to our laws will bring transgender immigrants to safety and allow them to reach their full potential to succeed and continue contributing to American society. The undersigned transgender organizations call on policymakers to uphold and incorporate the following principles to ensure that the basic rights of all immigrants and their families are protected:
- Create a definite, reasonable pathway to citizenship. Provide the estimated 267,000 LGBT and as many as 21,000 transgender undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. This would give them the legal certainty that they can work and travel safely, will not be separated from their families and communities, and can become full and equal members of society.
- Ensure a swift pathway for DREAMers. Undocumented trans youth who were brought to the US as children, attended school here or served in the military, and see themselves as Americans in every other way should benefit from the swift pathway laid out in the DREAM Act.
- Strengthen the family immigration system by increasing the number of family visas and including binational LGBT families. Family unity is central to American immigration policy because Congress has recognized that the fundamental fabric of our society is family. Yet today many face absurdly long waits of years or decades to sponsor family members such as parents or siblings. In addition, US citizens who are LGBT or have an LGBT partner are typically barred from sponsoring their partner for a visa. Even transgender people and their partners who are in different-sex marriages can face overwhelming legal battles to be recognized under current law.
- Repeal the one-year filing deadline for asylum-seekers. Each year many transgender people come to the US fleeing life-threatening persecution because of who they are, leaving everything behind to protect their life and their freedom.Yet many do not know that asylum is potentially available to them as a trans person, and the current one-year filing deadline is the primary reason why many are denied protection and risk being sent back to dangerous situations. Even those granted withholding of removal live in a permanent legal limbo, unable to travel abroad or to permanently integrate into US society. The one-year deadline is harsh, arbitrary, and no longer serves any legitimate purpose in light of other changes that have made frivolous asylum applications far less likely.
- Reduce mandatory detention and reform detention conditions. The current immigration system detains more than 400,000 people each year in prison-like conditions, with no right to counsel. Transgender detainees are overwhelmingly housed according to their birth-assigned gender, are subjected to prolonged isolation that can amount to torture, and are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Many are asylum-seekers who are further traumatized by detention. Current law prohibits even considering many people for bond or alternatives to detention. This wasteful and inhumane use of the detention system must be reduced and reformed.
- Reform the Secure Communities program and other similar state and local enforcement measures. Under current laws, 90% of state and local jails nationwide share fingerprints with DHS, in most instances before there is a final disposition in the criminal case. Transgender individuals are often targeted by police based solely on their appearance and have thus been disproportionately affected by removal proceedings stemming from these programs. Enforcement measures should prioritize targeting serious offenders by giving states the discretion to comply with federal detention requests for undocumented low-level and non-offenders.
- Any employment verification system must not violate personal privacy. Verification measures should use the minimum information necessary and should not include additional personal data that invades personal privacy. For transgender workers, a system that tracks gender markers, or uses other personal data such as former names, could “out” individuals and make them vulnerable to discrimination.
We recognize that transgender immigrants are a highly vulnerable population within the immigration system and we stand committed to advocating for a series of comprehensive immigration reforms that protect all immigrants’ rights.
Black Transmen, Inc. (Dallas, TX)
Black Transwomen, Inc. (Dallas, TX)
Casa Ruby (Washington, DC)
Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (San Francisco, CA)
DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) (Washington, DC)
FORGE (Milwaukee, WI)
Gender Justice Nevada (Las Vegas, NV)
Gender Rights Maryland (Laurel, MD)
Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey (GRAANJ) (New Brunswick, NJ)
Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project (K-STEP) (Topeka, KS)
Louisiana Trans Advocates (Baton Rouge, LA)
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (Boston, MA)
National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) (Washington, DC)
Rainbow Community Cares (RCC) (Raleigh, NC)
Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA) (Tucson, AZ)
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) (New York, NY)
Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPAC) (Nashville, TN)
Trans*Action Florida (St. Petersburg, FL)
Transgender Civil Rights Project – National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund (Washington, DC)
Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) (College Station, TX)
Transgender Health Empowerment (T.H.E.) (Washington, DC)
TILTT, Inc. (Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, Inc.) (Atlanta, GA)
Transgender Law Center (San Francisco, CA)
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) (New York, NY)
TransOhio (Columbus, OH)
Transgender People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) (Washington, DC)
Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
Trans Youth Equality Foundation (Portland, ME)
Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) (Holland, MI)
Transgender Youth Support Network (TYSN) (Minneapolis, MN)
TransLatina Coalition (Los Angeles, CA)