This summer, a Texas judge declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful. But President Biden’s administration is moving swiftly to respond and protect undocumented young people. He must, for so much more is at stake for LGBTQ+ Asian Dreamers.
President Obama created DACA in 2012, which has helped thousands of undocumented young people to work, study, and improve their lives in this country, without the fear of deportation. Many of them are LGBTQ+. And many come from Asian counties.
To address this disastrous court decision from this summer, Biden is looking to shore up the program with new rules. Still, only Congress can permanently safeguard DACA recipients and grant them, along with the rest of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., a pathway to citizenship.
Estimates say that 267,000 undocumented immigrants are LGBTQ+, of which a disproportionate share is Asian and Pacific Islander. More than 169,000 people who are API are eligible for DACA. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, over 16,000 people from South Korea, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and China have already benefitted from DACA. The court’s ruling will subject 800,000 potential DACA beneficiaries to again live in fear of deportation.
On Biden’s first day in office, he announced the Citizenship Act of 2021 (HR 1177/S.348), which will give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship (including 1.5 million Asians and a quarter million LGBTQ+ immigrants), keep LGBTQ+ Asian immigrant families together, reduce visa backlogs, and expand visas and green cards for workers.
Absent congressional action, thousands of talented LGBTQ+ and Asian young people could be deported, many of them to countries where they cannot live their authentic lives and reach their fullest potential.
For LGBTQ+ people, the stakes are even higher than those who are not LGBTQ+. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific prohibit same-sex relations, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. In Indonesia, police shaved the heads of trans women and publicly caned a gay couple for having consensual sex. In most Asian and Oceania countries, transgender people cannot legally change their gender on their IDs, and LGBTQ+ people are not protected by anti-discrimination laws.
The programs supporting undocumented youth have real-world consequences for real people. Tony Choi is a 32-year-old gay Korean DACA beneficiary from New Jersey. In 2010, his options were taking care of his mother with cancer in the U.S. or returning to Korea where his LGBTQ+ identity would subject him to harsh hazing for two years in the mandatory military service. The Korean military penal law also criminalizes homosexuality. Because of DACA, he’s been able to serve his community. Bupendra Ram is a South Asian Dreamer from Fiji who came to the U.S. when he was only 2 years old. He is the first person in his family to earn a college degree, but he had to save every extra dollar from his minimum wage job in order to afford tuition. His undocumented status at the time meant he couldn’t receive financial aid.
DACA has provided LGBTQ+ undocumented young people employment opportunities and educational opportunities. Asian Americans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. today and the largest segment of new immigrants. Undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ+ Dreamers, and DACA recipients are the ones who are making our country great and they deserve an opportunity for a pathway to citizenship.
Glenn D. Magpantay has been an advocate for the LGBTQ+, AAPI, and immigrant communities for over 30 years. He is a longtime civil rights attorney, professor of law and Asian-American Studies, and LGBTQ+ rights activist.