We Need Immigration Reform that Helps LGBT Undocumented Immigrants

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When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist José Antonio Vargas came out as undocumented in an essay published in The New York Times in the summer of 2011, he was “coming out” for the second time in his life. The first time occurred when Vargas raised his hand in history class during his junior year of high school after watching a documentary on Harvey Milk—the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California—and told his classmates and teacher that he was gay. And while we’ve known that there are thousands of people like Vargas who are undocumented and who also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, we’ve known little about their actual numbers or demographic characteristics.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis, the Williams Institute at UCLA—which researches sexual-orientation and gender-identity law and public policy—today estimates that there are at least 267,000 LGBT-identified individuals among the adult population of undocumented immigrants. Undocumented people who identify as LGBT are more likely to be male and younger; less likely to be Hispanic; and more likely to be Asian than the overall undocumented population. And because LGBT undocumented people find themselves at the intersection of two already marginalized groups—the LGBT population and the undocumented population—they are among society’s most vulnerable individuals.

A new CAP report builds upon the Williams Institute’s demographic findings by first unpacking demographic characteristics of the population, and then detailing the disparities and hardships that make the LGBT-identified members of the undocumented population among the most vulnerable members of our society. These issues—including employment insecurities, wage and income disparities, and health inequities—would be significantly lessened if undocumented LGBT immigrants were given a chance to earn legal status and, eventually, citizenship.

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