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Activists Stage Capitol Hill Sit-In Demanding LGBT Inclusion In Immigration Reform

The group of six activists say they won't leave the offices of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus on Capitol Hill until it issues a statement urging President Obama to include LGBT people in potential action on immigration. Update: Activists have ended the sit-in, saying they have reached an agreement with the Equality Caucus.

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Activists during the sit-in.
Courtesy SONG

Activists during the sit-in.

A group of at least six LGBT activists said Wednesday they won't leave the office of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus on Capitol Hill until the caucus agrees to issue a statement urging President Obama to ensure LGBT inclusion in potential executive action on immigration.

"We're asking for the caucus to release a statement today," said Hermelinda Cortes of Southerners on New Ground, a regional LGBT rights group. "We will be sitting in until that demand is met or we are arrested." They've set up a live broadcast of the demonstration.

Equality Caucus Executive Director Brad Jacklin told BuzzFeed just after noon Wednesday the organization will meet with the activists to address the issue and their demands.

The sit-in action comes on the heels of a letter issued to the caucus last Friday by the activists and 24 local and national LGBT and immigrant's rights groups, including SONG, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Transgender Law Center, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"As the groups listed below we know that the White House is in motion to act on immigration and we are calling on the Equality Caucus to use its influence to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ immigrants," the organizations stated in the letter, obtained by BuzzFeed. "LGBTQ immigrants will be deeply affected by whatever President Obama decides."

Specifically, the activists have asked the Equality Caucus to urge Obama to include four LGBT-specific recommendations in "administrative relief" on immigration, such as expanding Deferred Action (DACA) to the extent of the law and ending all collaboration among ICE and law enforcement agencies.

The activists also demand eliminating the use of solitary confinement for LGBT people held in immigration detention, saying in the letter that the practice constitutes torture and is an unacceptable form of housing LGBT immigrants. "Solitary Confinement is regularly used to supposedly 'protect' Trans and LGB people while in detention," they said. "If ICE cannot guarantee LGBTQ people's safety, they should not be detaining them."

With that, they've also asked for expanded protections for LGBT people in police or ICE custody and in detention centers because many may need special access to medical care or other considerations.

"President Obama is feeling a lot of political pressure to act on the issue of immigration since Congress has failed to do it," Cortes said. "These communities cannot wait for a piece of administrative relief that doesn't include all LGBTQ folks."

The activists ended the sit-in at the Equality Caucus, or the office of Congressman Mark Takano, around 5 p.m. Wednesday after an agreement was made between the activists and Equality Caucus Executive Director Brad Jacklin. The activists first started their demonstration around 10 a.m.

What the agreed upon response to the activists' demands is — and whether everyone agrees on what that that will be — was not so clear.

Paulina Helm-Hernandez, co-director of SONG, said the Equality Caucus has agreed to deliver on the activists' request to urge President Obama to address LGBT-specific issues in potential executive action on immigration reform by the end of the week.

Yet, while Jacklin confirmed the Equality Caucus will work on such a response, he couldn't say when it would happen or exactly what form it would take, written statement or otherwise.

"We certainly heard [the activists'] concerns," Jacklin told BuzzFeed after the sit-in ended. "I can’t speak for individual members of the Equality Caucus, but generally, people were and are sympathetic to their concerns. We are going to continue to work with the activists who came in today and engage with them and hopefully come to a good place where we’re able to support their efforts."

Helm-Hernandez said she looks forward to the Equality Caucus' forthcoming response even as the activist don't know to what extent the members will address their concerns.

"Many of the Equality Caucus members are very good and very progressive on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "So we don’t see them as a target, but we think it’s important for them to issue something in their capacity of members of the LGBT Equality Caucus."

More activists are traveling to Washington D.C. for a national day of action Aug. 2.

Read the full letter to the Congressional Equality Caucus:

Congressional Equality Caucus Letter 2014

To: Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus

RE: LGBTQ specific needs in Obama's upcoming Executive Order on Immigration

Dear Congressional Equality Caucus Co-Chairs:

Over 50 other LGBTQ organizations have been mobilizing our groups this year for LGBTQ specific immigration policy needs. As the groups listed below we know that the White House is in motion to act on immigration and we are calling on the Equality Caucus to use its influence to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ immigrants. LGBTQ immigrants will be deeply affected by whatever President Obama decides. We are proud that our country has a congressional Equality Caucus and as LGBTQ people we understand its role is to represent our whole community. Ending deportations and other key issues outlined below are of equal importance to the LGBTQ community as issues such as employment and marriage.

We know President Obama has the legal authority to deliver Administrative Relief on immigration and to change current enforcement policies and practices by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The President can support the safety and equal treatment under the law for ALL our LGBTQ communities by expanding Deferred Action and other relief from deportation, ending the torture of solitary confinement (including against transgender and gender nonconforming immigrants), curtailing the caging of our communities through immigration detention, and stopping the use of ICE holds which encourage local police to even further target LGBTQ people of color for arrest and deportation.

As organizations who are made up of, and represent, immigrant LGBTQ people we understand that the best advocates on these issues are the people most directly affected by these policies and practices. We urge and call on you, and other Co-Chairs and members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, to advocate for our communities' by issuing a statement calling on President Obama to include these LGBTQ specific recommendations in regard to immigration:

Expand Deferred Action (DACA) to the fullest extent of the law

According to the Williams Institute, there are more than 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ people living in the US. They all need relief regardless of age, criminal record, race, country of origin or parental status.

End all programs involving law enforcement and ICE collaboration

When law enforcement and ICE collaborate, racial, gender and sexuality-based profiling regularly ensues. The way to end this kind of discrimination and not undermine the safety of local communities is to keep these entities separate.

Eliminate the use of Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement is regularly used to supposedly "protect" Trans and LGB people while in detention. If ICE cannot guarantee LGBTQ people's safety, they should not be detaining them. A practice that the UN classifies as torture is not acceptable for housing LGBTQ immigrants.

Expand protections to LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations under police and ICE custody, in detention centers

People who are HIV positive, pregnant and/or LGBTQ require critical health needs that cannot be met while in detention. These vulnerable populations deserve access to medical care and other special considerations immediately.

Given the timing of the White House's motion on this issue, we are asking for a response to this letter by Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Thank you for your consideration.


Southerners On New Ground (SONG)

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (TQLM)

Transgender Law Center (TLC), National

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), Washington, D.C.

GetEqual, National

Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Network

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP)

The Queer Network

Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC)

Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools (GSAFE), Wisconsin

Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Providence, RI


Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Washington, D.C.

Visibility Project, San Francisco, CA

Equality New Mexico

Chinese for Affirmative Action, San Francisco, CA

American Friends Service Committee

Equality Louisiana

Louisiana Trans Advocates

Trans Latin@ Coalition

Transgender Intersex Justice Project

El/La Para Trans Latinas

Freedom Inc., Madison, WI

1Love Movement, National

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