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Intersectionality presents special challenge to immigrants


Immigrants who identify as members of the LGBTQIA community are often overlooked, two such immigrants told the audience at a panel discussion last Friday morning.

The Texas State University Philosophy Department’s 2018 Summer Dialogues for Activism series kicked off last week with discussions about immigration issues, including intersectionality — when two social categorizations overlap, such as a person who is both an immigrant and homosexual or transsexual. The discussion on immigration and intersectionality included Yunuen Alvarado from Texas State’s Student Community of Progressive Empowerment (SCOPE), Guatemalan immigrant Sulma Franco and immigration lawyer Leonardo de la Garza. The moderator was Robert Garcia, coordinator for LGBTQIA+ programs at Texas State.

ʻWeʼre not really seenʼ

Alvarado said there are approximately 267,000 immigrants who identify as “queer,” and yet, “We’re still not represented in the media because we’re not really seen, and our stories are not being told.” LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, intersexual and asexual) immigrants often face discrimination in their home countries for their sexuality and discrimination in the United States for their immigration status, as Franco told the crowd.

Alvarado said that although no immigrant should be considered better than another, news media tend to give positive coverage to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. “DACAmented” immigrants, she said, are often seen as shining examples of success or as victims of their parents’ choices to come to the United States. However, Alvarado — who is a DACA recipient — said blaming the parents for bringing their children here harms the parents.

“It’s not my mom’s fault,” she said. “We didn’t come here willingly.”

Alvarado said she and her mother filed an application for a visa stating that they were fleeing domestic violence. That was two years ago.

“We haven’t been told if it’s been accepted or being processed,” she said, adding that while they wait, her mother has no real protection from deportation. Alvarado’s mother, and thousands of other women, could be affected by a decision that U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions announced Monday: that fear of domestic violence is not sufficient grounds to grant asylum.

“If she gets deported back to Mexico, all my dad has to do is find out and she’s dead,” Alvarado said, adding that if she were to get deported to Mexico she would likely be killed because of her sexuality.

“Even if someone committed a crime,” she said, “they still deserve human rights.”

ʻMachismo es muy grandeʼ

Franco shared her story of fleeing Guatemala in fear for her life because she identifies as a lesbian.

“Machismo es muy grande,” Franco said, explaining how chauvinism strongly enforces traditional gender roles in Guatemala.

Speaking to the audience in Spanish and with a translator, Franco said that in Central America and Mexico, being a lesbian can be a death sentence. Society typically expects women to cook and clean and raise children, she said. The traditional gender roles mean that men are seen as incapable of cleaning and cooking and being involved in raising a family.

“Why can’t they? They have hands and feet,” she said, noting that men from Central America and Mexico are cooking and cleaning in the United States.

Franco said that people would tell her that she is going to go to Hell and that she is not worth anything because of her sexuality.

“For women who want to stand up for their identity, it is so terrible,” she said. “It’s very hard to go through it and say, ‘This is who I am.’”

Franco left Guatemala and came to the United States, where she began doing maintenance work. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested her, and for a year she was shuffled from one detention center to another. However, she said, she had decided, “I’m not going back to Guatemala. I’m going to stay here and fight.”

Franco’s girlfriend and friends came up with the $15,000 needed to get her out of an ICE detention facility in 2014. She then decided to seek sanctuary at a church, but first she had to find a church that would accept her. Because of her sexuality, Catholic churches would not grant her sanctuary, Franco said. Eventually, she found a Unitarian Universalist church in Austin where she stayed for two and a half months.

While she was there, members of the church and other concerned citizens started online petitions and telephone campaigns on her behalf. Eventually, immigration officials told Franco to go to their office. She said she went with two lawyers and two priests, whom she described as tall white men. Because they were white, she said, “They could use their power to help out the immigrant community.”

Immigration officials welcomed Franco, she said, and gave her a paper granting her legal residence for a year. She now works as an organizer and activist for immigrant rights.

ʻItʼs important to make noiseʼ

De la Garza said that as an immigration lawyer, he works to give clients and potential clients accurate information and help them navigate the complicated immigration system.

“There’s a whole alphabet soup of visas,” he said, not to mention green cards and citizenship applications.

There are illegitimate lawyers — “notarios” — who are not licensed and who will promise clients green cards, citizenship and anything else but not deliver and simply take clients’ money, de la Garza said.

“I try to give as much helpful information as I can when people come to my office,” he said, even if it means telling them they have no legal recourse.

“I still have hope that things will change,” he said.

De la Garza said that media coverage of immigration issues can be lacking in several areas, but that could be because so many people are suffering from news fatigue and because immigration might be too complex to cover completely.

“The whole picture is so complicated, messy and painful,” he said, noting that news coverage can sometimes miss the “real humanity” of immigrants and their stories.

He recommended getting statistics and other information from government websites. Michelle Sotolongo of SCOPE, who was in the audience for the discussion, added that Spanish-language news outlets, including Univision and Telemundo, can tell a more complete story.

De la Garza also pointed out the role of community discussions and events like the

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