For this weeks readings I found Yasmin Nair’s “How to Make Prisons Disappear” very compelling. Nair makes the argument that legislation for immigration reform and especially queer immigration is largely based on heteronormative ideas of assimilation. Nair tells two differing accounts of immigration, Shirley Tan and Rigo Padilla. Tan is a queer immigrant who claims to be an honest American who lived a typical suburban lifestyle with her butch partner. Padilla however, was not queer and did not lead an “honest” lifestyle because he was arrested for DUI which then led to his incarceration in ICE. Nair claims that these immigration stories are different because even though Tan was queer which many would believe would make it more difficult to gain citizenship, she presented in a typical “American” way. Her partner was butch and played the stereotypical male role, earning the income and supporting the family while Tan tended to their twin children. Other than the recent blip with the law, the couple led an honest life obeying the judicial system. “They are exactly the kinds of immigrants you want in this country,” claimed an executive for People magazine (128). Nair finds it difficult to use stories of immigration like Tan’s because it “hides the brutal reality of undocumented life, transmogrifying it into an ethereal suburban paradise shattered only by the unexpected visit from ICE” (129). The truth is that millions of undocumented immigrants live in constant fear of discovery and experience intense exploitation of employers who threaten to expose the truth if they complain about wages or mistreatment. Nair is critical of mainstream gay activists who focus on UAFA (Uniting American Families Act) because the focus on this legislation is the love between bi-national couples who are “not to be confused with the criminals in yellow jumpsuits” (130). I agree with Nair’s critique of LGBT activists seeking immigration reform because they are using an equal rights mode, claiming that queer immigrants just want to live a typical “American” lifestyle with their partners. It also assumes that all queer immigrants have equal access to resources that would help them while not addressing the realities of immigrant workers queer or not who are exploited on a daily basis because of their class status. This preoccupation with UAFA also masks the systematic violence and mistreatment of immigrants within the prison system and outside of it.
In recent news a grassroots organization called Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) is planning to meet with a local Massachusetts senator to discuss the relations between LGBT issues and immigration reform. In one article the organizer claimed, “We’re fighting for inclusive immigration reform that doesn’t leave anyone out—especially our LGBTQ community and immigrant detainees. As Massachusetts residents, we will give voice to the pain our communities are feeling, as thousands of moms, dads, brothers, and sisters are deported every day to meet an artificial quota of 400,000 deportations per year. Queer rights and immigrant rights are directly intertwined.”
In another article discussing the same issue of uniting queer rights and immigration rights, an immigration lawyer, Michael Jarecki described LGBT immigrants as a vulnerable class. “When they suffer sexual violence, they don’t have a place to report this,” he also added, “that if these individuals are detained for immigration violations, for example, their gender identity often is not respected or understood.”
“Prisons want to jail according to birth gender instead of gender identity,” he said.
“In that situation, Jarecki noted, a transgender individual will often need protection from other inmates, so they will be put in solitary confinement.”
“Undocumented LGBT immigrants face other challenges, including discrimination in the workplace, poor access to reproductive healthcare, and an often confusing asylum application process, which has to be completed within a year of arrival in the U.S.”