Home > In the News > Obama’s LGBT Order Leaves Immigrant Groups Wanting More

The president’s move reveals a fault line in his gay rights policies.

Activists plan to protest the president’s New York fundraiser to advocate for immigration reform and the plight of LGBT immigrants.

By Lauren Fox | U.S. News & World Report

June 17, 2014

President Barack Obama’s plan to sign an executive order extending workplace protections to some LGBT Americans is cause for celebration within the LGBT community, but gay and transgender immigrants worry they are still being left behind.

Immigration activists point out that while the president has been willing to use the power of his office to take unilateral action related to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he’s been hesitant to use his pen to help immigrants, especially members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population that face discrimination in detention facilities in the U.S. and danger if they are deported back home.

To show their frustration, LGBT advocates and immigrant rights groups are teaming up.

Tuesday night, United We Dream, GetEQUAL and Immigration Equality will highlight what they say is the president’s inconsistency on gay rights as they protest a high-profile LGBT dinner Obama is attending in New York. What was billed as an opportunity for activists to celebrate the president’s gay rights advocacy is now also an opportunity for the immigrant community to point out where the White House has fallen short.

“He is going to this fundraiser reminding people he is pro-gay marriage while LGBT immigrants are still being deported to places where they could be killed,” says Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, an LGBT advocacy group. “The way the president enforces immigration law is completely up to him.”

Marco Quiroga, national field officer for Immigration Equality, another LGBT immigration group, says the protest is meant to remind Democrats that with congressional elections just around the corner, time is running out to act.

“We are trying to uplift a sense of urgency. Deportation can be a death sentence. The consequences are grave for the LGBT community,” Quiroga says. “We cannot wait.”

It’s estimated there are 267,000 LGBT immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission, and advocates say they are at increased risk of discrimination and abuse.

Even as some fight for asylum or go through deportation proceedings, experts say LGBT immigrants are a target. A report from the Center for American Progress last November said LGBT immigrants faced an increased risk of abuse at detention facilities. Between 2008 and 2013, LGBT people in immigration detention centers had filed nearly 200 reports of abuse.

The intersection of gay rights and immigrant rights reveals just how tricky executive orders can be for the White House. Issuing an order for one constituency can sometimes leave another wishing for more.

Obama has used his pen to help immigrants before: This week marks the two-year anniversary of the president’s decision to allow young immigrants who had entered the country illegally to stay in the United States.

But the administration continues to be in a tough spot. If the president acts without Congress, it could create deep resentment within the Republican caucus and cause them to permanently shelve an immigration reform bill. Yet if Obama does not act soon, Latinos might be inclined to stay home from the polls, which could contribute to midterm congressional losses for Democrats.

In March, Obama said he had called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to evaluate the administration’s deportation priorities, but the White House has made no guarantees that it will unilaterally curb deportations this year.

“We don’t think that Congress or the president should wait for the other to act first,” Quiroga says. “The president has the responsibility, the power and the ability to end deportations.”

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