Border Crossings: Immigration and Transgender Communities

This workshop at the Trans Health Conference was presented by three people, Caitlin, Priyank and Laurent. There were a lot more people than expected attending and we had a great discussion time as well as some stories/resources sharing. Below are the handouts Caitlin shared with everyone at the conference.

Queer and Trans Immigration Resource List

HotPot! Philly

HOTPOT! is a Philadelphia-Area gathering working to build community for Queer Asian and Pacific Islander women, trans, gender variant and gender queer/non-conforming identified folks through social gatherings, political action, and good food.

Southerners on New Ground

SONG is a membership-based, Southern regional organization made up of working class, people of color, immigrants, and rural LGBTQ people.

Sylvia Rivera Law Project

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence.

Queers for Economic Justice

QEJ understands that the LGBT community is not mutually exclusive from immigrant communities. We run an immigrant rights program that is working on a variety of issues which impact LGBT immigrants, their families and communities.

Gender JUST
(Gender Justice United for Societal Transformation) is a multi-racial, multi -ethnic, and multi-generational grassroots organization of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, and Allied (LGBTQA) young people, LGBTQA people of color, and LGBTQA grassroots folks developing leadership and building power through organizing. Gender JUST believes that comprehensive immigration reform is a critically queer struggle and has been involved in several citywide efforts to stop deportations and immigration raids.

Immigration Equality 

Immigration Equality serves as an information clearinghouse, giving LGBT foreign nationals and their loved ones up-to-date information about immigration law via trainings, informational materials, and by answering email and telephone inquiries, in addition to a pro bono asylum clinic.

New Sanctuary Movement
They are part of the National New Sanctuary movement based in congregations around the United States which are connected to immigrant families who are facing the possibility of separation through deportation. They respond as a hospitable and welcoming community to the immigrant families, and they respond prophetically to the unjust systems that cause their suffering (including unfair trade policies).

Hearts on a Wire
Hearts on a Wire is a Philadelphia-based trans and gender variant prisoner justice collective.  We build community with incarcerated trans and gender variant (T/GV) people across Pennsylvania through networking, letter writing and art.  We are committed to supporting people inside and creating a movement that addresses the root causes of mass imprisonment and policing of our communities – especially trans women and people of color.  We know the safety, health, and wellbeing of our communities depends on prison abolition, gender self-determination, and racial and economic justice – from the welfare office to the workplace.

Brief History of Gender and Sexuality Policing in Immigration Law

1875 Page Law passes Congress, which bars contract laborers, felons and Asian women being brought to the US for “lewd and immoral purposes” from entering the US, effectively barring unmarried Asian women in an attempt to control the Asian population

1882 Act of 1882 banned “convicts, idiots, lunatics,” and those likely to become “public charges” by relying on public benefits

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act bars all Asian immigrants from entering US, with exceptions for students, teachers and merchants, and wives of merchants (but banning wives of laborers)

1882 Contract Labor Law bans all immigrants coming to perform labor, with an exception for family members or personal friends of residents of the US, establishing the first heterosexual family preference system

1891 Immigration Act of 1891 bans public charges, felons, those with “loathsome and contagious diseases,” those convicted of “crimes involving moral turpitude” (which include sodomy and statutory sexual offenses) and polygamists, and introduces concept of deportation

1903 Congress revises Immigration Act to bar prostitutes, managers of prostitution businesses, and anyone trying to bring a woman to the US for purposes of prostitution; medical exam instructions under the Act expanded grounds of exclusion to include pregnancy, syphilis and gonorrhea

1907 Immigration Act of 1907 adds a category for persons who admit committing a crime involving moral turpitude, and creates a ground for deportation for any woman who practices prostitution within three years of entering the US

1910 Mann Act prohibits “importing” women “for immoral purposes” and starts deportation for persons who violate the Act; the Act also continued a ban on interracial marriage domestically

1917 Espionage and Sedition Act creates “Asiatic Barred Zone” which bars persons from India, Burma, Siam, Malay, Arabia, Afghanistan, part of Russia and the Polynesian Islands; added new medical exclusion for “constitutional psychopathic inferiors”, which was defined to include persons with “abnormal sexual instincts”; barred “sexually immoral” women from obtaining legal status through marriage

1921 National Origins Quota Law places cap on the number of admitted immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere and establishes a tiered preference system based on heterosexual family ties

1925 System of issuing visas is established through US consulates abroad, who check police backgrounds, conduct political interviews and review medical exams with little to no supervision or review

1943 Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, but in the following years strict quotas for Asian countries were enforced

1952 McCarran-Walter Act adds gays and lesbians explicitly to the list of Class A medical exclusion category of “psychopathic personality” and subjects them to deportation

1957 Waiver provisions are created that allow close blood-related family members of US citizens to “waive” grounds of exclusion, including prostitution

1962 In Fleuti v. Rosenberg, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allows a gay man to enter the US and finds that “psychopathic personality” is too vague to include homosexuals

1965 Immigration and Nationality Act places cap on immigration from the Western Hemisphere (making thousands of Mexican immigrants undocumented) and expands slots available to the Eastern Hemisphere; also adds category of “sexual deviation” to grounds of exclusion to overcome Fleuti

1967 In Boutilier v. INS, the Supreme Court upholds the deportation of a gay man

1979 Surgeon General attempts to allow gays and lesbians to enter US after homosexuality is removed from the list of mental illnesses by the APA

1980 INS announces new rule that homosexuals are excluded on that basis alone

1982 In Adams v. Howard 9th Circuit Court of Appeals finds that a marriage between members of the same sex would not provide immediate relative status under the immigration laws

1987 Government begins screening applicants for residence for HIV

1990 Gays and lesbians are formally removed from the list of excluded grounds

1991 Haitian immigrants arrested while trying to cross to Florida by boat are tested for HIV; those who test positive are taken to Guantanamo and placed in detention in the first HIV detention camp until a court ruling eventually orders that they be admitted to the US

1993 Congress passes legislation banning anyone who is HIV positive from entering the US, including immediate relatives and tourists

1994 Janet Reno announces that gays and lesbians should be considered a “particular social group” for purposes of applying for asylum

1995 In Hernandez-Montiel v. Attorney General, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals grants asylum to a “gay man with a female sexual identity”

1996 DOMA officially defines marriage as heterosexual for all federal purposes, including immigration

1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act raises income restrictions for family members seeking to sponsor relatives for immigration status; greatly expands the categories of crimes that will both bar someone from entering and provide a ground for deportation; prohibits anyone who entered by crossing the border without inspection from obtaining a green card in the US; expands the use of mandatory immigration detention and adds a one year deadline for asylum applicants

2000 Congress creates the T visa for victims of human trafficking, which requires applicants to report trafficking crimes and cooperate with the criminal investigation; visa applications may only be certified by ICE

2004 Immigration authorities announce new rule that the government will not recognize a marriage where one or both spouses “claim to be transsexual”

2005 In Matter of Lovo-Lara, the Board of Immigration Appeals holds that as long as the marriage is valid where it took place and is between members of the opposite sex, a marriage will be deemed valid for immigration purposes even if one spouse is transsexual

2005 Congress passes REAL ID, which would require states to standardize the identification requirements for I.D. cards, deny identification to undocumented persons and share the information with a federal database; without an I.D. that meets the requirements, you cannot open a bank account, travel on a plane or receive social security benefits. Many states refuse to participate, and the deadline is extended multiple times into May 2011

2009 The ban on admission for immigrants with HIV is lifted

Many of the entries were adapted from Eithne Luibheid, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border, University of Minnesota Press, 2002.


Queer and Trans Immigration Reading List

Pooja Gehi, “Struggles from the Margins: Anti-Immigrant Legislation and the Impact on Low-Income Transgender People of Color,” 2009 Women’s Rights Law Reporter, Rutgers University.

Dyana Bagby, “LGBT Activists Fight Immigration Bills,” Georgia Voice, March 18, 2011

Paul Canning, “In US, violent, sexual abuse of LGBT refugee detainees draws too little attention,” LGBT Asylum Blog, April 2011 

Yasmin Nair, “What’s Left of Queer? Immigration, Sexuality and Affect in a Neoliberal World,” Spring 2011 

Audre Lorde Project, “For All the Ways They Say We Are, No One Is Illegal,” April 21, 2006 

Malik Ahmed, “A Threat to Queens Pride,” The Scholar and Feminist Online, Summer 2008. 

Karma R. Chavez, “Violence, Intersectionality and the Erasure of Queer Migrants,” Queer Migration Research Network 2010. 

Video, “Andrea Ritchie in Bringing the Revolution Home,” Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program 2011. 

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