Living the DREAM - Special fund helps undocumented LGBTs get work permits
 

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posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 9

Living the DREAM - Special fund helps undocumented LGBTs get work permits
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Nearly 200 LGBT undocumented young people have either received or are in the process of receiving two-year work permits and reprieves from the threat of deportation, thanks to a fund made possible by more than three dozen LGBT organizations.

Late last summer, President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to enable people who came to the United States as children - commonly known as 'Dreamers' in reference to the DREAM Act, a proposed immigration reform bill - to apply for work permits and relief from deportation.

In response, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund launched the 'LGBT Dreamers Fund' at the Liberty Hill Foundation to help LGBT Dreamers pay the $465 in fees required to apply for relief under the DACA program. The $465 poses a steep hurdle for most Dreamers because neither they nor their parents are able to obtain lawful employment due to their undocumented status.

'These young people are part of the LGBT community and we knew we had to find a way to give them a hand,' said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, one of the fund's co-founders. 'We are thrilled that so many LGBT organizations across the nation stepped forward.'

'I'm so grateful that so many organizations have stepped up to help LGBT Dreamers,' said GetEQUAL National Field Director Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez. 'The cost has hindered thousands of Dreamers to be lifted from the shadow of deportation.'

To date, more than $100,000 has been raised and 160 LGBT Dreamers have received financial assistance. At least another 40 will get help from the fund.

UNITING COMMUNITIES
One of the recipients of aid from the fund, Jose Mendoza, recently received his work permit. Jose's dream is to become a nurse and he is now taking classes that will allow him to apply to a nursing program. 'Getting this kind of support and help means so much, and it's great to see the Gay community stepping in and saying that what I am doing is important,' he said.

Marco Quiroga, who wants to be a surgeon, said he is 'thrilled' to have the support of the LGBT Dreamers Fund so that he could submit his DACA application. 'Immigrant and LGBT issues have always been separate in my mind, and it is wonderful to see these two communities come together to work on a common cause,' he said. 'Receiving these funds creates a sense of community with other Gay immigrants who are in my situation.'

'In spite of having to deal with the stresses of being both undocumented and LGBT, these young people have persevered and emerged as leaders of the national reform movement,' said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, another fund co-founder. 'All of us are so pleased to be able to show our support and gratitude to them.'

LEGISLATION NEEDED
There is widespread agreement that the DACA program is only a temporary fix and that creating a direct pathway to citizenship for Dreamers is one of the key elements of comprehensive immigration reform. The framework for reform recently announced by President Obama as well as the one put forward by the bipartisan 'Gang of 8' in the U.S. Senate specifically included Dreamers.

On February 5, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican who helped sink the federal DREAM Act in 2010, also endorsed citizenship for Dreamers.

Jaime Diaz, who also received a grant through the fund, recently got the news he had hoped for - he was granted a work permit under DACA. It was at that moment that he realized the dreams he's had since his parents brought him to this country as a young boy could indeed come true, and he could one day become an elementary school teacher.

'Everything is starting to fall into place,' Jaime said. 'Getting my work permit and Social Security card and other documents was like getting a whole load lifted off my shoulders. I feel freer because of DACA and I am no longer scared of the police or of being treated like a criminal.'

NOWHERE ELSE IS HOME
Alejandra Estrada hasn't known any other home than the United States. She was just three months old in 1989 when her mother brought her and her sister across the U.S.-Mexico border. She excelled in school, and after high school graduation she began cleaning houses with her mother, with the two recently starting a small house-cleaning business in Las Vegas.

Alejandra, who also received a grant through the fund, submitted her DACA application and is hopeful it is approved so she can achieve her dreams of attending college and majoring in early childhood education.

'A change of status could really change everything,' said Alejandra, adding that her immigration status has limited her ability not only to excel professionally, but to grow. 'Even though I have been here since I was a baby, there's still this feeling that I don't belong. Becoming a citizen and getting everything squared away will be an incredible relief.'

SEATTLE GROUPS CONTRIBUTE
Current contributors to the LGBT Dreamers Fund include Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center; The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada; Freedom to Marry; Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD); GSA Network; and many more.

In Seattle, Gay City Health Project and Pride Foundation contributed to the fund.

You can learn about other fund recipients at www.LGBTDreamersStories.com. LGBT Dreamers who would like assistance from the LGBT Dreamers fund may apply at www.LibertyHill.org/LGBTDreamersFund.



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