Three Questions on Immigration Reform

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Posted on January 31st, 2013 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Featured, Social Issues, Topic of the Week
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This past Tuesday afternoon, President Obama addressed the nation about the pressing need for immigration reform. As he noted, the approaches to this reform will be quite varied in ideology and implementation, but most of us will agree that something needs to change. I am glad the conversation is happening and eager to see what actually happens. With that said, I finished reading the White House immigration framework with three primary questions – one somewhat seemingly tangential.

  1. What, if any, change will happen in regards to private prisons/detention centers? If the private prison industry can look at detained immigrants as profit and Obama is asserting the need for strengthening border control, can we hope to see any justice here? I have little faith that critique of the private prison industry will be a part of the reform. And what about the human rights violations that continue to occur in immigrant detention centers where more than 400,000 are subject to “punitive treatment, inadequate medical care, vulnerable to rape and assault and isolated from any access to legal assistance?” The president has received a letter written by 300 local, national, and international organizations asking for the ten worst immigrant detention centers to be shut down. Some of America’s most shameful treatment of human beings is happening in these detention centers, but do they “count” as a necessary part of immigration reform? 
  2. Is there any hope that Obama’s support for same-sex  couples will be shared by Congress, and will the Supreme Court please put DOMA to death?  I couldn't be more thrilled that this new framework provides the much needed reform allowing same-gender partnered immigrants to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship. Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act states that the federal government will not respect any same-gender relationship. This means gay Americans cannot get their loved ones permanent residency unlike their straight counterparts. It’s not hard to imagine all of the problems this creates for LGBT couples who are binational. While immigration issues and gay issues are often talked about as if they inherently separate, it is actually the case that for some immigrants, they are deeply intertwined. I wish we could bring this reality to the surface rather than hiding it under the stereotypes of what the media tells us gay looks like or immigrants look like.
  3. Speaking of marriage equality, while the idea of it thrills me, can we start thinking bigger? I plan to get married one day because for me, it is a theological and spiritual ritual that is deeply meaningful.  Honestly, I can still hardly believe I live in a time period where if I want to be married, it won’t be acknowledged by my state, my Methodist denomination, or acknowledged federally. This is hard to grasp sometimes. Nonetheless, it is and there are a number of legal repercussions for acknowledged marriages that relate to adoption, hospital visitations, personal finances, and wills (for example) that I'd really like my future wife and I to have access to. However, as I join others in creating this change, I also keep in mind what I learned from Dr. Mary Hunt while interning at WATER – marriage privileges, at least, those who are “lucky in love.” Though we like to act otherwise as a society, not everyone meets someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Not everyone wants to get married at all. Not everyone lives out of a traditional framework of sex, marriage, and a two-person commitment. Given these basic facts, why are we privileging couples with legal perks over single people? Given the current structure of marriage and its legal ramifications, LGBTQ marriage equality is necessary to fight for. But as we do, shouldn't we be working on alternative reforms to deal with permanent residency requests, social security, tax-breaks and the other 1,138 federal rights afforded to those who choose the traditional nuclear family model? Hunt makes a much better articulated and worth reading case for this than I can, but the question is quite simple – isn't it time to think bigger?

There are endless thoughts, questions, areas of concern and celebration that could be discussed given Obama’s speech yesterday, but these are where I start. I am eager to see what changes do occur in the next few months and years. Meanwhile, we do a disservice when we only talk about issues – immigration, LGBTQ equality, racism, poverty, sexism, and violence as separate conversations. The reality is that they are all deeply intertwined with one another and while it may seem odd to move so quickly from questions of private prisons to whether or not we should consider reforming the legal benefits of marriage, it is also necessary.

We need immigration reform, without question, and we need to have a dedicated conversation about it. But immigration is also attached to a number of other issues that also need reform – and one reform affects and is affected by another. For this reason, it is vital that people from all backgrounds are working together for reforms that are just for everyone – for people like us and for those different than us. Every issue of injustice in America belongs to every American. The policies are as intertwined as our lives. 

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2 Responses to “Three Questions on Immigration Reform”

  1. Nate Kratzer says:

    As you probably already know, the unfortunate answer to all of your questions is ‘no,’ at least, not any time soon. I wish it were otherwise.

    I am intrigued by the third question. I agree that it’s wrong to privilege married people over single people, but I believe most of the benefits only make sense in the context of marriage. Things like visitation rights and receiving a portion of your deceased spouses social security payments and so forth don’t really make sense in the context of a single person. I read Dr. Hunt’s article, but it didn’t really give a solid case of where a single person was actively disadvantaged by the law. One more example, many of the tax provisions extended to married couples are actually to eliminate an advantage currently possessed by singles (falling into a lower tax bracket). While I can see the cultural bias in favor of marriage, I’m not sure I really see a legal discrimination case.

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Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.


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