GetEQUAL calls for an immigration reform bill that includes the Uniting American Families Act. (Photo/Courtesy Felipe Sousa Rodriguez)

Undocumented LGBTQ activists call for inclusion in immigration reform

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez is married to a permanent resident, but he isn’t able to expect citizenship anytime soon.

He is one of the 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ immigrants in the United States. Although he was just 14 years old when he came to the United States from Brazil and received his work permit under Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals, Sousa-Rodriguez cannot be sponsored for citizenship because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

On the eve of immigration reform announcement, LGBTQ rights activist group GetEQUAL held a press conference outside of Florida Senator Rubio’s office in Florida to demand an LGBTQ inclusive immigration bill. Senator Rubio is a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators charged with developing a plan for comprehensive immigration reform to introduce to Congress.

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Sousa Rodriguez, codirector of GetEQUAL, says there are many fronts on the immigration fight as it relates to LGBTQ immigrants including a comprehensive pathway to citizenship, and rights for binational couples to sponsor their spouses regardless of gender.

But perhaps their biggest demand for immigration legislation is the inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in the new plan because of the unique situation LGBTQ undocumented immigrants are in. Under the current law, a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident can only petition for a visa for a foreign-born spouse of the opposite sex. Even if the same-sex couple is married in a country or state that recognizes gay marriage, the current federal law still applies. Should the Supreme Court overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, binational married couples will likely be able to apply for visas based on their relationship.

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“An American citizen can’t sponsor their spouse so we’re asking for the inclusion of that provision. There are about 40,000 couples in this situation in the United States,” Sousa- Rodriguez says.

According to Sousa-Rodriguez,  gay immigrants may also face more prosecution back home once deported.

“It is really harmful for immigrants trying to come to the United States from homophobic countries like Uganda. If you apply for asylum in the United States and get deported, you will almost certainly get killed, so right now people are afraid of applying,” Sousa-Rodriguez says.

According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll, more Hispanics than ever are in favor of gay marriage. An estimated 49 percent of Latinos say they are in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, the widest margin for Hispanics in the NBC/WSJ poll’s history. A recent report by Pew Research Center estimates that 58 percent of all Americans support gay marriage.

RELATED: As Supreme Court hears arguments, Latinos increasingly in favor of gay marriage 

Gabriel Garcia Vera, a GetEQUAL leader, said in a press release that he stands by an LGBT inclusive bill as well.

“As a queer Puerto Rican and someone who identifies as a Latino voter, I support an inclusive immigration reform bill,” said Gabriel Garcia-Vera. “LGBTQ families deserve the same protections as anyone else, and we are asking Senator Rubio to include the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in the comprehensive immigration reform package.”

Despite the majority support for gay marriage, legislators have said the inclusion of LGBT protections could hold up passage of the legislation. At an event sponsored by BuzzFeed back in February, Marco Rubio said, “I think if that issue becomes a central issue in the debate it’s going to become harder to get it done because there will be strong feelings on both sides.”

RELATED: Immigration timeline: Bill Tuesday, Friday hearing 

The immigration plan is expected to be released tomorrow.

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