May 13, 2013 in inQueery

un·doc·u·queer (un-dok-yu-kweer) /adj./ Undocumented & queer.

Among many facets of an individual’s identity, to be both queer and an immigrant without paperwork can present pervasive challenges. The marriage equality movement often fails to include the challenges of being undocumented. Meanwhile immigration reform leaves untouched the need for queer voices.[1] Consequently, this intersection of identities rarely receives the consideration it deserves.

As a white male whose parents are not immigrants, I must make clear the fact that I do not understand the intimate nature of being an immigrant, let alone being undocumented. I first heard the term undocuqueer last fall through an exploration of personal stories, activists’ statements, and political events. Since then I’ve been attempting to understand what’s at stake in this movement.

The marriage equality movement fails to recognize that mixed-status marriages (i.e. citizen and non-citizen) are also without equal rights and protections. Since marriage presents access to citizenship, undocumented individuals sometimes marry for the sake of becoming a citizen. In instances such as this, marriage may not be about love or the citizen partner may abuse the inherent privileges and power of their status. Furthermore, reporting abuse also becomes complicated, making leaving the marriage troublesome when citizenship is connected to the legal relationship. Finally, with immigration being a contested topic, families might intervene in mixed-status relationships and threaten one or both partners so as to avoid marrying and thus conferring citizenship upon the undocumented partner.

In essence, undocuqueer folks must come out twice: once as queer and again as undocumented. Both identities are not always fully accepted in the immigrant’s new home and being undocumented complicates the experience of being queer. Namely, the United States may not forever be their new home and with the knowledge of deportation being a real possibility, being queer could mean being sent back to persecution. Consider the personal statement of an individual named Mohammad, an Iranian immigrant:

My mom often says, “why stay here, just go back home and we will figure something out?” Of course, she doesn’t know that I also happen to be gay and so returning home to a country that has publicly killed people for being gay is just NOT an option.[2]

Being queer in a country that has laws against your orientation doesn’t seem safe. In fact, it forces some people to flee (maybe even immigrate without the appropriate paperwork).[3] Though the United States grants asylums, claims based upon persecution related to being queer “are particularly difficult to file, argue, and win — even with substantial evidence of persecution and ill-treatment.”[4]

Immigration to the United States for the purpose of safety is nothing new. In other instances, marriage across nations usually grants citizenship rights. Yet, binational same-sex couples are ignored. Even in recent immigration reform, the right to citizenship by marriage has not been extended to homosexual relationships.[5]

Though the issues of immigration and marriage equality are not the same for everyone, the passion for fairness and its fearless pursuit runs deeply in both. In fact, being both queer and undocumented has, for some, “opened the path to express themselves…because they see it as one struggle: Undocumented and Unafraid; Queer and Unashamed."[6] As our country moves toward greater justice for all of humankind, it is important to not forget about the intersection of identities that results in this type of unseen suffering. To think that immigration affects only someone’s paperwork would seem unfair. To imagine that marriage equality is simply about a ceremony misses the point. Wherever and whomever, someone chooses to live and love, they should have the right to do so fearlessly.

Jonathan Baio is a guest contributor at InQueery and studies Chemical Biology at UC Berkeley.
You can follow Jon’s personal and business ramblings on Google+

    (1) Crisostorno, Christina. Undocuqueer Stories, Documented. 2 Nov 2012. Georgetown University Women’s Center Blog. https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/guwc/2012/11/02/undocuqueer-post/#comment-142
    (2) Mohammad – “In Iran We Don’t Have Gays.” 2013. Dream Activist. http://www.dreamactivist.org/about/our-stories/queer-undocumented-students-await-dream/mohammad-in-iran-we-dont-have-gays/
    (3) Kalan, Jonathan. The Gray Area of Gay Refugees. 4 Dec 2011. PBS Newshour. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/globalhealth/july-dec11/lgbt_12-04.html
    (4) Sridharan, Swetha. The Difficulties of US Asylum Claims Based on Sexual Orientation. Oct. 2008. Migration Information Source.
    (5) Lochhead, Carolyn. Gay couples left out of immigration plan. 28 Jan 2013. SFGate. http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Gay-couples-left-out-of-immigration-plan-4230776.php
    (6) Lerner, Gabriel. Jorge Gutierrez, Undocumented Queer Activist Works to Bring LGBT and Pro-Immigration Groups Together. 14 Feb 2012. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/undocumented-queer-latino-