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Gay illegal immigrants demand special treatment from Obama

Wary of criminal record restrictions in Obama ‘deferred action’ policy for dreamers

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gay immigrants are mounting a campaign to demand that they be included in any unilateral moves President Obama makes this year to halt deportations, arguing that they face unusual circumstances that otherwise might leave them on the outside.

The demands pose a tricky test for Mr. Obama, who has made major inroads with gay rights groups during his time in the White House, but who will have to draw lines somewhere as he seeks to craft a more lenient deportation policy without canceling deportations altogether.

"We hope that he evolves and he gets it right, and he can push for the broadest deferred action or administrative relief as possible," said Jorge Gutierrez, an activist who made the case last week in an op-ed for the Washington Blade, a leading newspaper for gays.

Hispanic and immigrant rights groups want Mr. Obama to broaden his 2012 "deferred action" policy granting tentative legal status and work permits to so-called dreamers, or young adults who were brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, so it will include illegal immigrant parents whose children are either U.S. citizens or dreamers.

But the 2012 policy for dreamers excludes immigrants with major criminal records, and gay rights activists fear if Mr. Obama keeps those restrictions in place, it would end up excluding many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who, because of their lifestyles, end up with higher rates of criminal records, Mr. Gutierrez said.

Meanwhile, limiting any policy only to parents could exclude most gay illegal immigrants, whom activists estimate could total more than 250,000.

The White House has been reluctant to tip its hand on what it is considering, repeatedly dismissing reporters' speculation.

"The president has directed the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general to identify additional actions and send recommendations to him by the end of the summer on steps he can take without Congress, but within his existing authorities, to fix as much of our broken immigration system as we can," an official told The Times. "I don't have any announcements on their recommendations at this time."

Those pressing for a crackdown on illegal immigrants say Mr. Obama should have predicted this kind of pressure once he announced that some people no longer would be subject to deportation.

His 2012 order applied to those brought to the U.S. as children, who were seen as blameless. But activists said it made no sense to deport their parents, who often were the ones who brought them into the country.

"This really is a kind of feeding frenzy now where every group wants to make sure they get their piece of the action," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stricter immigration laws. "Once the president gets to make up the law, then why wouldn't every pressure group demand that they also benefit from one of his edicts and decrees?"

The criminal bar could be difficult for gay rights groups to overcome. Even as he has carved most illegal immigrants out of real danger of deportation, the president has said recent border crossers and those with criminal records must be returned to their home countries.

Mr. Gutierrez said that criminal bar has prevented some dreamers from applying for the 2012 deferred action program. He said transgender immigrants in particular often end up "forced to do sex work," which leaves them afoul of the law.

"Coming from a community that is already marginalized within the immigration community, we hope there's no line drawn when it comes to criminalization," he said. "Every case is different from the next case."

Mr. Obama has had a tumultuous time as president handling both immigration and gay rights.

Activists in both communities have questioned the president's commitment to their issues, particularly after he voted as a senator for the Secure Fence Act in 2006 and opposed same-sex marriage during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Since then, the president has earned back some trust.

Immigrant rights advocates praised Mr. Obama for the 2012 action that exempted dreamers from deportation, while gay rights activists have applauded his self-described evolution on their issues, including his support of same-sex marriage and expansion of federal nondiscrimination protections.

Despite those overtures, gay rights advocates have reason to suspect they may be left out this time.

Last year, as the Senate was debating a broad bill to legalize illegal immigrants and to rewrite the legal immigration system, activists argued that the bill should rewrite long-standing U.S. law to allow same-sex partners to sponsor each other for immigration benefits reserved for married couples.

The move, however, threatened to upend the carefully balanced compromise reached with Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders, who said expansion of gay rights would have forced them to oppose the bill.

Democratic leaders sided with the Christian leaders and agreed to forgo a gay rights debate.

The issue became somewhat moot when the Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, opening the way for same-sex couples to obtain legal marriages that would enable immigration benefits.

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