Moments after President Barack Obama announced his immigration reform plan on Thursday, members of the gay community began fretting aloud about how the executive order would affect LGBT families.
Specifically, many wondered how Obama is defining families, as the centerpiece of his immigration order allows about 4 million people to become eligible to defer their deportations and allow them to work legally if they pass background checks and pay taxes. But the plan focuses on undocumented immigrants who are the parents of United States citizens.
Just what defines a parent and a marriage? asked Caroline Dessert, a self-described "queer Latina" from El Centro, Calif., who is also executive director of Immigration Equality.
If it's DNA and a municipal marriage certificate, Dessert pointed out that would leave out roughly 267,000 undocumented members of the LGBT community who could likely be excluded from Obama's intended relief. While the order is a "historic moment," she said, "once again, it appears as though the LGBT community has been excluded from a law designed to protect vulnerable people."
"If family relationships through marriage, or blood, is the only way that you can seek deferred action, or you can seek recognition or seek to come into status, " said Kate Kendall, with the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights - another group worried about the same issues. "That will leave out tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of LGBT families."
Specifically, Dessert, Kendall and other lesbian, gay and transgender activists are worried about a few things that Obama has yet to address. Many lesbian and gay groups were part of a White House conference call on Thursday ahead of the president's announcement, but there was no time to ask the questions many in the LGBT community wanted to ask.
Emails to White House representatives were not immediately returned on Friday.
Specifically, Dessert and other LGBT immigration advocates have these questions:
- About half the states in the United States don't recognize same-sex marriage. How will Obama define families if the parents aren't legally married?
- LGBT parents often don't have biological children. Will this be count against them as Obama outlined the relationships between fathers and mothers who adopted their sons and daughters.
- Being gay is a crime in about 80 countries around the world. Will Obama deport gay undocumented immigrants to these places if they've fled them recently?
- The transgender community has historically been targeted by police and arrested; Will these "crimes" and arrests count as Obama's program would not allow criminals to be eligible to stay in the country.
Activists are hoping that if they express their concerns publicly, then Obama will heed their worries as the order won't formally be implemented for another 180 days.
"In the past, you needed a blood relationship," Dessert reiterated in a phone interview. "We hope that won't be the case, here."