American Exceptionalism vs. the “Damn Paki”

Posted on by Prerna in Desi, LGBTQ | Leave a comment

I think everyone should read about how ICE is trying to drug and deport a young immigrant back to South Africa and especially this in particular:

Immigration is not just black and white, fueled by immigrants’ search of money and better economic opportunities. There are many underlying socio-political forces and policies that drive migration flows, whether it be NAFTA, genocide, war, drugs and other goods, or the still-too-relevant effects of imperial colonialism. People are quick to say, “Oh, Country X has had its independence for 38 years now! You can’t possibly blame the problems it has today on Imperial Country A; stop being so sensitive.” Au contraire, mon frère. A country might be independent on paper, but the effects of colonial rule are made to cripple domestic growth and silence the voices of “uncivilized natives” to the point that damage becomes deep-rooted, dooming future generations to colonization by corporations and the imprisonment that come with lack of autonomy.

I’m glad Ms. Bello — a good friend — is pushing the envelope and talking about neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism as an integral part of immigration to America. Of course, our politicians do not want to talk about it. Most of the immigration reform movement won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Too often, stories of exceptional immigrants, miracle walkers and TV personalities serve to perpetuate the myth of the American dream. What’s lost in this narrative is not only the murderous side of American Empire but also the impact of neo-liberal capitalism on developing and underdeveloped economies, which compels people to flee to America.

It happened to my great-(great) grandparents. They were lied to and compelled to leave their homes in an India under British rule to go and work on the sugar-cane plantations of the Fiji Islands as indentured servants. The Indian indenture system was started after the “end of slavery” in America as a way to continue the same old system with a new name? During the Civil War, the availability of cotton drastically fell around the world since Americans no longer had access to free black labor to work in the cotton fields. To alleviate this dramatic fall in the cotton supply, Americans zeroed in on the Fiji Islands. It seemed like a good idea at the time to steal some land from the warring tribes of Fiji or give them guns, alcohol and disease in exchange for valuable land. The story is all too familiar.

But it didn’t work out quite as planned. The Fijians killed and ate some American missionary who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Appalled, the United States demanded payment for his life. The Fijians did not have a Eurocentric form of government or currency and they tried to cede themselves to the United States as payment. America refused. After some back and forth, the British accepted to pay the American debt and take over the islands of Fiji. They started using it as a sugar-cane colony, importing over 60,000 Indians to work in Fiji as indentured servants. A hundred years later, an American-supported anti-labor and anti-Indian coup would ensure the migration of thousands of Indians once again, in search of a new home.
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13 Years On

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ, Poetry | Leave a comment

Rainbow flags at the end of the gay, lesbian, ...

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Half my life ago, I first made out a girl.

I didn’t know whether I was straight, gay or bisexual. At least, I did not identify with those labels. I just knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her. That’s all that mattered.

And I took a leap of faith. It is still paying dividends. I would like to believe I have the same courage and conviction I had when I was 13, if not more.

A small part of the narrative is posted over at Gaysi Family.

Your beautiful eyes, so captivating
Your nearness, so mesmerizing
Your touch, so soothing
Your presence, so calming
In your loving arms, everything was forgotten

This one moment is etched forever in my memory.
And you are forever etched in my soul.

Love. It’s still all that has ever really mattered.


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The Privileged Dreamer

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, LGBTQ | 2 Comments

I think I’ve heard it all today. Someone called me “a privileged dreamer” and told me to stop complaining about being in removal because he was more undocumented than me.

Alright, so my parents and I did not travel through the harsh border terrains to enter the United States without inspection. They did not work as migrant farm-workers. None of us had to struggle to learn another language (unless you count American English as another language). And they all have papers.

But my great-grandparents were indentured servants who toiled hard in the fields of Fiji, thousands of miles from their own country. My parents barely finished high school. They left their entire lives behind to come here after a long history of political violence against Indians in their own country. We lived in a small mobile home park that we could barely afford. I started working at Taco Bell when I was barely 16 and they went from being accountants in their country of origin to janitors in America. I was put into some random urban high school with a dismal graduation rate and never went to my own high school graduation. I scrubbed floors and washed toilets to put myself through undergraduate and graduate school.

I don’t want to get into the stress of growing up in a mixed-immigration status family and always feeling like the outsider. Due to my immigration status and removal proceedings, the entire family feels like an axe is hanging over their head at all times and no one feels like they can move forward in their lives. I cannot imagine what it is like for my mother to have papers and not have the same right conferred to the daughter for whom she lives. Her life revolves around my immigration status. And her 30-year marriage to my Dad fell apart because of it.

Mom and Dad fought over everything, including my sexuality and immigration status. Once, cops came to my house to take my father away because a counselor at school reportedly found out that he was assaulting me because I was gay. Despite being more conservative and religious, Mom was the only one to defend me. Still, they spent years trying to force me into a marriage of convenience. I tried to kill myself on three separate occasions. I can go on, but I don’t have time to play oppression Olympics.

True privilege is when bankers get bailed out after crashing the economy and rendering thousands homeless. True privilege is when a British company pours thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and gets away with it. True privilege is straight, white male privilege. True privilege is birthright citizenship.

Still, I will admit two privileges:

  1. I was born and raised in the Fiji Islands and then the San Francisco Bay Area.
  2. My mother spent her lifetime savings on me and works 18 hours a day to make sure that she can afford to put me through law school.

Everything else is either luck or hard work. But it isn’t privilege.

People also complain that I sound entitled. When you, your siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles work hard and pay taxes and you still get told to appear all the way across the country to stand trial for the actions of someone else contrary to what the law says (Read Section 203(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), you better feel a wee bit angry. When the law is written in your favor but an agency is entitled to an arbitrary and capricious deference that it uses to persecute and separate you from your family, and deny you legal rights, there is little else to feel besides anger.

This “privileged dreamer” just paid $800 in taxes to the state of California. And I have to appear in an Immigration Court in California for removal proceedings. That’s anything but privilege.

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Clarying USCIS On Gay Green Cards

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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Last week, USCIS told us that they would hold green card petitions filed by same-sex married couples in abeyance. This week, they are telling the press something else. The last thing the agency wants is to spread the perception that they are not following the law of the land regarding DOMA. So now they are going back on their word and resuming deportations.

Amidst, all the confusion regarding the official position of USCIS on issuing green cards to foreign partners of same-sex couples, I stick by what I said originally: inundate them with thousands of marriage-based petitions from same-sex couples. I’d love to see them adjudicate all the petitions and pursue removal proceedings. As a community, it’s time to turn up the heat on the agency and Congressional members.

I’ll say two additional things:

  • USCIS never said it would issue green cards. No one has ever said that the new guidance would give them green cards. This will not benefit those that live abroad and those couples who are not legally married. The end.
  • But if you are tired of being undocumented and came to this country legally, this is your golden chance to get work authorization and all relevant documents besides a green card. It really makes a difference. You can drive legally, work legally, take out loans — what more do you need? If you came here illegally, you are just out of luck.

No organization will completely endorse this position. Because lets face it, we are all lawyers and lawyers never give absolute answers due to professional ethics and a desire to err on the side of caution. But social change is not made using caution. Or lawyers.

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USCIS Grants De-Facto Deferred Action For Same-Sex Bi-National Couples

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

LGBT Families for Immigration Reform

Image by ep_jhu via Flickr

Update: USCIS is no longer going to deny green card applications (I-130s) filed by married same-sex binational couples. They will hold them in abeyance till a decision can be reached on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Not that holding in abeyance does not mean processing.

But it does create a case of defacto deferred action. Now what the hell do I mean by defacto deferred action? It’s not deferred action in law but deferred action in fact — usually, pending applicants for green cards are eligible for work authorization at absolutely no cost. Eligibility for work authorization confers social security numbers to applicants and hence, drivers’ licenses, and other necessary identity documents. If you are filing an I-130, you may as well file the application for work authorization at no additional cost, until USCIS tries to fill this loophole created by prosecutorial discretion.

However, here are some caveats. It is unclear whether this is a true shift in policy and whether it creates permission to stay. Visa overstayers may still risk a 10-year bar if they stay in this country without authorization. Yes, I know this creates a permission to work and not permission to live scenario — welcome to my life. Those who entered without proper documents may still be subject to removal proceedings and deportations. And most importantly, the policy only applies to married couples and not merely partners. And if you are an unmarried undocumented adult child of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident like me, it is unclear whether your same-sex marriage to a U.S. citizen or legal resident would benefit or doom you.

As always, my advice is to get a good immigration lawyer if you are part of a same-sex binational marriage.

Also, I’m glad to report I’ve a paid fellowship this summer from the San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild to work at the National Center for Lesbian Rights on LGBT Immigration issues.

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GW Law’s Transgender Spring Problem Turns Real

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

GW Law

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I haven’t been a happy camper lately. Last week was hellish with regards to hate and the last thing I needed was a heads-up that the school isn’t doing all it could do to fight the transphobia that has come about as a result of the Legal Research and Writing (LRW) spring problem. I’ve been given the impression from some peers that the LRW program has been manipulative when it comes to dealing with LAMBDA holding the recommended sensitivity trainings. I don’t really know all the details. The Dean for the LRW program has denied these claims fervently though, expressed her support for LAMBDA Law and she seems to be looking into the situation. Then again, after working in new media for so long, I know a carefully vetted press statement when I see one.

There seems to be a lot of mis-communication. There are rumors of professors saying and doing inappropriate things that may amount to sexual harassment claims. Calling the transgender plaintiff “it” is high up on the list. In turn, several students did not abide by the student code of conduct. I know students who have complained about their professors or are thinking of complaining once the appellate brief is in. Many more will just sit through it all quietly till grades come out.  When I found out, I was angry and hurt and of course accusations were hurled back and forth, and it certainly did not seem to help the situation. It did not help me focus on finishing my appellate brief as a whole different problem festered in my mind all weekend long. Several sources now tell me that my angry emails may have helped to kick-start some people into gear and I shouldn’t worry about getting into trouble. That’s not it.

Despite the fact that the LRW program was open enough to take on a sensitive issue such as transgender discrimination under Title VII, my opinion of the school and the way it has dealt with resulting transphobia is at rock-bottom right now. I’m not sure what happened in the past, how much planning and sensitivity went into handling the situation and I don’t think I care to know right about now. The results are evident: some people were hurt in the process, scared to go to school and felt ostracized. I know I spent several days upset and seething. I do want to know what everyone on the payroll at GW LRW is doing to rectify the situation and make sure this does not happen again.

I’m sure most of them mean well and they are also dedicated, hard-working people with absolutely no intention to discriminate. That does not excuse what has happened and I find it deplorable that the program cannot address it beyond just offering to fire people. The problems are directly due to the failure of the LRW program to educate people on the issue. Of course, pointing that out leads to “hurt feelings” amongst administrators. If you are hurt as an administrator, imagine how the LGBT students on campus are feeling right now because the LRW program has not met their needs and they have felt ostracized due to all the ignorance.

Amidst all this hue and cry, we had a hate crime on campus last week because some douchebag perceived a straight guy as a gay male and decided to beat him up. Some people are straight-up defending the hate crime over at the GW Hatchet. All in all, I’m sure the entire LGBT community at The George Washington University is feeling really loved and safe right about now. Not.

After hours of discussion, the LRW program feels that it is not important to provide an avenue for education on transgender issues after creating this problem (and they are probably never going to do a topic like this ever again, using this as an experience)
AND the school administration also thinks it is not so important to rectify the problem to give us 10-15 minutes of class time to do trainings.

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Gheys Thinking About Suing DHS

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, LGBTQ | Leave a comment

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Rainbow fla...

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Look who is (finally) suing the Department of Homeland Security over how DOMA discriminates against bi-national same-sex couples:

“There’s no doubt that the administration’s new stance on DOMA has created a new window of opportunity to advocate on behalf of our families within the court system,” said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality. We believe we have a good shot at winning and securing immigration rights for, at the very least, couples who are legally married in states where those marriages are valid.”

(Full story at Towleroad)

I may have said something about suing DHS and overwhelming the living daylights out of the incompetent agency a while ago that was discarded as the “angry woman of color” reaction although it was neither written in anger nor had anything to do with the color of my skin.

I stand by my prior statements. We need to sue DHS in every jurisdiction that we can. We need to get as many officials as possible to speak out publicly against deportations under DOMA. We need to start filing I-130 petitions up the wazoo. They are easy to fill out and take less than an hour. (Trust me, I’ve had about 5 filled out for me from family members). The only caveat is if your partner is undocumented and does not have 245-I status, DO NOT BRING ATTENTION TO YOURSELVES.

Finally, I told Mom about the prospects of the lawsuit and the reasoning behind waiting so long for the political climate to change before filing a lawsuit and she said “you must always fight for justice regardless of whether you win or lose” and that she isn’t paying my tuition for me to be “a coward lawyer.”

I don’t have a reply for her.

I do know that we are more likely to get relief for same-sex binational couples before we get anywhere near comprehensive immigration reform. I think our immigrant rights “advocates” are smart enough by now to not co-opt the idea but lend their support for it.

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What Should Same-Sex Bi-National Couples Do Since Obama Is No Longer Defending DOMA?

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, LGBTQ | 2 Comments

Rainbow American flag promoting equality for e...

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So the Obama Administration is not going to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in courts. That is the section which limits the definition of marriage as that between a man and a woman.

The lawyers and law students are rejoicing. They can see jobs for themselves less than a mile away with heightened scrutiny for LGBT individuals. Marriage equality advocates are celebrating Independence Day early and breaking out another bottle of human rights champagne. In a parallel universe, Arizona is now trying to ban even straight undocumented immigrants from getting married but more about that later.

Lets get to you. You are in a bi-national same-sex relationship. Your partner either has to travel back and forth to keep legal status in order to stay with you or your partner is undocumented (and hopefully unafraid) or your partner cannot enter the country and you’ve to travel to see her/him. What do you do?

Immigration Equality, an organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT immigrants, has forever opposed the idea of same-sex couples filing I-130 claims and adjudicating their cases in court. (Edit: But I hear that they may be reconsidering and changing their position on this in light of Obama’s decision). They have good reason to believe that federal judges will defer to DHS. For the most part, they are right since you are unlikely to win your claim and your partner may end up in removal proceedings.

But there is a better way to deal with this. Forget listening to advocacy organizations and lawyers. Stop sitting on your laurels. Ideally, I would like to see some 36,000 couples filing I-130 “Petition for Alien Relative” petitions with USCIS. Just imagine the mayhem that would cause. USCIS has to go through each claim. It will take them eons to reject them. You can file appeal upon appeal and backlog them further. You probably don’t even need to take to the streets or the courts.

Start talking to the media about how President Obama is keeping you apart from your partner, while he’s running a re-election campaign. Knock on the doors of your representatives and take them to task.  Under immense pressure, Congressional leaders will have to start holding hearings. Sooner or later, DOMA will be repealed in the courts or by Congress, not that it matters much. Even without that, DHS has to issue a directive or memo allowing your partner to live and work legally in the country (deferred action) and Congress has to take action and pass the Uniting American Families Act.

The system is denying you equal rights so screw with it. Give them hell. Shut them down. Go all out for reverse attrition through enforcement. It’s a whole lot more fun than sitting around doing nothing.

Anyway, that’s how you make change happen. They cannot deport us all. DREAM Act student leaders have known and exploited this for quite a while. It’s about time same-sex bi-national couples grow a pair and do the same.

P.S. I’m not your lawyer. You can’t sue me if things don’t go the way you want them to. This post, and nothing on this site, creates or implies an attorney-client relationship.

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Proposition 8 Finally Ruled Unconstitutional

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

I can’t get married nor do I want to but this is still a win for our communities (regardless of what I think about the institution of civil marriage).

The most important bit from the 138 page ruling:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Just a note, the court order has been stayed so no one can get married. This decision is likely to be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. So while the fight is long from over, we’ve won the battle this time around.

More later. Time to party tonight!

Event: AAPIs and the Urgency for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, LGBTQ | Leave a comment

Hosted by Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (APAP)-Washington, DC Chapter

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Cannon House Office Building Room 121
Washington, DC

Karen Narasaki – Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) – moderator

Prerna Lal – founder, Blogger
Deepa Iyer – Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Hemi Kim – DC Director,  National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
Ben de Guzman – Policy Director, KAYA – Filipino Americans for Progress; Co-Programs Director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), National Coordinator, National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE)

Congressional speakers
Congressman Mike Honda (confirmed for opening remarks)
Congresswoman Judy Chu

Campus Progress
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
South Asians for Obama (SAFO)
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
Asian American Justice Center (AAJC)
National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)
National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE)
Immigration Equality

Special Thank Yous:
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)
Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)

This is really the only reason that I am in DC besides work.

I have two needs:

1. More organizational sponsorships.

2. Someone to video “shoot” the event.


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