Thomas Saenz calls for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform
Thomas A. Saenz , president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), called for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform at the opening plenary of the 22nd National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. MALDEF is a national organization whose mission is to promote the civil rights of Latinos/as in the United States.
Saenz started his speech by saying that in the six months he has been leading MALDEF, “this is the largest and most energetic crowd” that he’s addressed.
He mentioned that MALDEF is an organization founded 42 years ago in San Antonio, Texas, when Latino lawyers recognized the need for leaders in the Latino civil rights community. It was modeled after the NAACP legal defense fund and work in education, employment, immigrants rights and voting rights.
Saenz expressed hope at the beginning of a new “decade of opportunity and great challenge ahead of us, especially with the prospect of finally moving toward comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship and legal status.”
He stressed that a critical part of MALDEF’s heritage and history is collaboration and partnership with other communities. “It has been one of my goals, as the new president, to deepen or collaboration and partnership with the LGBT community,” Saenz said.
He challenged the notion of “pundits who opine freely that the LGBT and Latino communities cannot work together because of the philosophy and beliefs of the Latino community. This is deeply flawed. There is great commonality and interest. Beginning with the fact that our two communities overlap.”
To make his case, Saenz stressed on some strong similarities between the Latino and the LGBT communities:
First, “many of the members of our communities continue to live in the shadows about our status. Undocumented immigrants and LGBT people, because of fear of law enforcement and hate crimes. Second, people assume that our communities are focused on single issues — immigration reform and marriage equality. But we know that our movements are enduring and are using political power to influence this nation. Third, we both face forces in Washington and elsewhere that would seek to exclude us from the 2010 census. Fourth, our two communities are victims of the courage deficit in Washington. The failure to have the courage to enact comprehensive immigration reform and the failure to end the discriminatory military policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And finally, significant portions of our communities have been placed outside of constitutional law. Undocumented immigrants and LGBT people should be accorded the same protections that other groups have been accorded for the last fifty years.”
Finally, Saenz stated that “our immigration system is discriminatory. We have a system that does not provide legal representation, often even a hearing, for decisions that are life and death for some families. We have a system that allows law enforcement to make assumptions based on race or identity that is inconsistent with our constitutional values.”
To change this, Saenz stated that “we must reintroduce equal protection values into our definition of family — of any kind — under our immigration law. This means enacting the Uniting All Families Act as part of the comprehensive immigration reform.”