Left Out of Obama’s Executive Action: Many LGBT Families

Left Out of Obama’s Executive Action: Many LGBT Families

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Last week, President Obama took bold action to grant relief to an estimated five million undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the United States.

This step represents a huge victory after Congress refused to pass legislation to overhaul and repair our broken immigration system. But while the president’s proposal will help make the system more humane and workable, it is only a first step. Significant work is still needed for the system to work for everyone, including the estimated 267,000 undocumented people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

The centerpiece of the plan is a new program called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), which will grant relief from deportation and work authorization, for three years at a time, to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) who meet the requirements. But there are serious concerns about how much it will be able to help LGBT parents.

By making relief under DAPA wholly dependent upon familial ties, the program could potentially exclude thousands of families in the LGBT community. That’s because discriminatory laws make same-sex parents much less likely to have legally recognized relationships with their children.

The policy provides relief from deportation only to the “parent” of a U.S. citizen or LPR, but it would not necessarily protect the non-recognized undocumented parent in this situation. For example, consider a same-sex binational couple, where the immigrant partner is undocumented. Now imagine that couple is living and raising a child in one of the 35 states where there are no explicit protections for same-sex couples to petition for second-parent adoptions. The couple has no access to a legal mechanism to ensure that both parents have a legally recognized relationship with their child. If the non-recognized parent is also the undocumented partner, it is not clear that relief would be available for this family under DAPA. Without further guidance clarifying that the definition of “parent” can include a person acting as a parent even where there is no legally recognized relationship, this program will be ill-equipped to protect many families in the LGBT community.

What is more, the program will exclude a large number of parents of LGBT youth from relief.
The fact that DAPA will be available only for the parents of U.S. citizens and LPRs, and not for parents of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, will have a disproportionately negative impact on the LGBT community. LGBT undocumented people are typically younger than the broader undocumented community, meaning that DACA has been, and will continue to be, a major source of relief for them. Currently, 10 percent of DACA recipients identify as LGBT, and that number is poised to go up with the new expansions to the program. Without extending DAPA relief to parents of DACA recipients, the program will exclude a large number of parents of LGBT youth from relief.

The next few months will be crucial as details of the plan continue to emerge, and as the president’s plan is transformed into policy, we must work together to ensure that additional guidance is implemented to make relief accessible for LGBT people and families. We hope that last week’s announcement is the latest – not the last – step towards a truly reformed immigration system.

Maya Rupert is policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).