Undocumented Gay Youth Will Be Aided By LGBT Dreamers Fund
Jose Antonio Vargas’ name became synonymous with the immigrant rights movement when he publicly "came out" in a cover story for the New York Times revealing and chronicling his life as an undocumented gay immigrant. Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American, gave a face and voice to the more than 11 million undocumented Americans living in secrecy across the country.
"All my life, living in America and exploring America, I’ve been a minority," Vargas told The Bilreco Report. "I majored in black studies, I’m gay, and I’m undocumented. I’m like an affirmative action hire gone amuck. But I actually think I liberated myself a couple of years ago when I started thinking, ’I’m not a minority. I’m actually a majority of one.’ That’s where we’re headed in this country, I think. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as minorities."
Many immigrants like Vargas are undocumented, yet consider themselves wholly American. They are not legal citizens in the country they call home, and many consider their country of origin as nothing more than a name or fading memory. But unwanted by this country, undocumented people wrestle with questions of belonging and identity.
Countless undocumented youth were brought into the United States as children by parents seeking to give them a better life. One in every 18 people in this country is from a "mixed-status" household where at least one family member is undocumented. They are active members of the community, taxpayers, students, journalists, baseball fans, friends and neighbors, yet many of them face the daily threat of having their lives overturned.
Having a respected public figure like Vargas speak out made it easier for others in similar circumstances to come forward and show their support for their fellow immigrants in an effort to get the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act passed. The passing of the act will give hope to the many DREAMers whose aspirations of attending college and becoming contributing members of society are jeopardized by their lack of legal status.
In every high school class comprised of 42 students, at least one of those students will not be able to go on to college after graduation because of their lack of documentation. Many of these undocumented students are exemplary pupils who maintain a 4.0 grade point average and are active members of their community.
Cendy, a high school student from Aurora, Colorado maintains a GPA of 4.0 or higher, has won numerous excellence awards, and is the only one in her family without papers. She is one of the many undocumented youth who have come forward through TheDreamIsNow.Org -- a platform for undocumented youth to share their stories started by Apple founder Steve Job’s widow, philanthropist Powell Jobs. Cendy shared the pain of the possibility that she might not be able to follow her sister’s path to college.
"I know I have a lot of potential, but that I might not get there because my status could hold me back," she said, close to tears.
Terrence Park, a UC Berkeley math and applied statistics major, also came forward. He relies on the passing of the DREAM Act so that he can continue his education at Yale where he will pursue a master’s degree in Biostatistics. Cendy and Terrence are two of the countless DREAMers who have bravely rallied together in spite of the risks of being deported and separated from their families, possibly forever, and the threat of job loss, in order to remain in the country they call home and for the many others like them who are not in a position to raise their voice.
For some undocumented immigrants, like Jorge, the issue of immigration extends far beyond a discussion of status to one of acceptance. Jorge is part of a larger undocumented, LGBT community whose rights not only as Americans, but as human beings are being questioned. For many bi-national same-sex couples the possibility of sponsoring one another has become impossible due to the Defense of Marriage Act.
"I can’t marry my way into citizenship like straight people can," Vargas said in a Huffington Post article. "I can get married in the state of New York where I live, but because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government, which hands out visas, won’t recognize my marriage. It would be wrong to think you can ignore the LGBT community in immigration reform."
Many binational same-sex couples are forcibly separated without a viable path to citizenship. The LGBT movement has played a crucial role in the fight for immigration reform. The influx of Latino immigrants in red states such as Arizona and Texas is making it easier for progressive legislation to be passed.
Undocumented immigrants live in hiding, fearful of the day when they will be discovered, detained, and separated from their families. But many undocumented immigrants return more to the economy than the cost it takes to deport them. The average 30-year-old Mexican woman who graduated from college pays approximately $5,300 in taxes and costs the U.S. government less than $3,900 in taxes.
According to the Center for American Progress, it would cost the U.S. government $23,000 dollars to deport a single individual. To deport the more than two million undocumented students alone, it amounts to over 48 billion in tax payer dollars. These students will eventually be contributing an additional $148 billion in earnings and $171 billion dollars in spending to the economy.
LGBT and immigrant communities stand united on one front: the pursuit for the freedom to live their lives without secrecy or shame for who they are in an America that can truly call itself the land of the free and the home of the brave.
"It’s not like you can choose. My being gay is not a social issue, it’s a fact," adde
d Vargas. "It’s not something to be debated. It’s a reality. I really hope that as we have this debate that is all about defining who an American is, that we really have the tough conversations here."