This afternoon I will block traffic in New York City, risking arrest, arm in arm with my colleagues in the immigrant rights movement. I am doing this because my joy that binational couples are finally getting green cards is tempered by my frustration that so many other future Americans, queer and straight, are still not free. We are waiting for the House of Representatives to act, and we cannot wait any longer.
As the executive director of Immigration Equality for the last eight years, I have had the great privilege of fighting for the equal treatment of LGBT immigrants. Some of you know that I am also an observant Jew – I keep the Sabbath, I keep kosher. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly and clearly directs the treatment of immigrants: “There should be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it is a law for all time throughout the ages.” (Numbers 15:15)
I was brought to this country by my great-grandparents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. I am participating in today’s civil disobedience in downtown Manhattan because my faith does not allow me to stand by and say nothing while people are held in immigration detention — truly in jail — not for an afternoon, but for months on end, though a civil immigration violation is not a crime.
For LGBT people in particular, those jails can be places of degradation: of humiliation, harassment, and much worse. At Immigration Equality, we hear these tragic stories directly from our own clients: a gay man from Jamaica taunted by guards for being effeminate, transgender women from Mexico stuck in solitary confinement 23 hours a day because male facilities cannot keep them safe.
It is unacceptable to me as a Jew to deny refuge to someone who has fled persecution, and it is vexing to me as a lawyer that so many LGBT people seeking protection have strong cases, but cannot win asylum because they have missed an arbitrary filing deadline.
Now is the time for immigration reform. That is why I am joining a nationwide act of civil disobedience today and plan to risk arrest alongside my fellow protesters. It’s time for our Representatives to fulfill their compact with the American people to govern rather than obstruct, to lead rather than follow, to act rather than delay.