Immigration, Marriage Equality, and “Coming Out”

Written in collaboration with Attorney Jessica Oliva-Calderin.

The “coming out” process is a recurrent topic of discussion in the LGBTQ community. Exposing an area of our lives so intrinsic to ourselves could be menacing due to prejudice and stigma. However, what happens when there are three areas of our lives that are hidden in the closet? Many Latinos in the United States face the struggle of what is commonly known as the “triple coming out”. These individuals are often ashamed or scared of revealing that they are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, HIV positive, and undocumented. Fortunately, with the overturn of DOMA, undocumented Latinos and Latinas in same-sex loving relationships now have the same legal right to immigration benefits when married as heterosexual couples. Hopefully with this change, the “triple coming out” process will be less excruciating for some.

Following the repeal of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) has been directed to review immigration visas in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse and to treat same-sex marriages exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages.

Today, the place-of-celebration rule will govern same-sex marriages in exactly the same way that it governs opposite-sex marriages. Meaning that unless this marriage is incestuous, polygamous, or otherwise falls within an exception to the usual rule, the legal validity of a same-sex marriage is determined exclusively by the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated. The domicile state’s laws and policies on same-sex marriages will not bear on whether immigration authorities will recognize a marriage as valid.

In this regard, an applicant’s eligibility to petition for a spouse will not be denied as a result of the same-sex nature of the marriage.  Immigration authorities will apply all relevant laws to determine the validity of a same-sex marriage exactly the in the same manner as an opposite-sex marriage. USCIS, however, has made it clear that civil unions or domestic partnerships will not be recognized.

The evidentiary burden is on the applicant seeking the benefit.  However, USCIS understands that because of the nature of a same-sex marriage, some evidence may not be available.  Rather than focus on the evidence that is unavailable, immigration officials will review the evidence that is in the record. The only issue is whether the petitioner met his or her burden of proof (either by a preponderance of the evidence or by clear and convincing evidence) in proving a bona fide marriage relationship. Individuals should not be penalized for failing to produce certain documents that the adjudicator may expect, but rather will be flexible.

The fact that marriage is now an option to solve immigration status helps our Latinos/as open one of the closet’s door more easily. However, opening this door often requires opening the closet’s door of being LGBTQ, and sometimes the closet’s door of being HIV positive to friends and family members. This is not an easy task to do since stigma is still highly present in the conversations of Latino families. These conversations more often require an understanding of acculturation and generational differences among family members. When deciding to conduct these conversations, the partner or couple should consider the following three tips: (1) Talk first with the family member that would be more likely to assimilate the information in a less judgmental way; (2) Try to anticipate the best outcome, worse outcome, and more realistic outcome of the conversation; (3) Decide what place and time is best to disclose the information. Many reasons why these conversations are difficult to have in Latino families is because of language differences when expressing feelings, stereotypes perpetuated for many generations, misinformation about the topics, and sometimes due to religious beliefs. The individual should try to answer questions as honest as possible, thus opening a channel for healthy heart-felt communication.

Getting married is already a stressful and life-changing event in our lives. Adding an HIV positive status or LGBTQ identity does not make it an easier journey for the couple. Optimistically, one day everyone will be able to adopt Elvis Presley’s words “When I get married, it’ll be no secret.”

Luis R. Alvarez works as a psychotherapist and bilingual medical social worker with the HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ, and Latino populations.

Jessica L. Oliva-Calderin is an immigration attorney and managing partner at Calderin & Oliva, PA. See more about Mrs. Oliva-Calderin and her work at

The Multiple Faces of Immigration

The topic of immigration in the social policy arena has always been a big debate. It is such a controversial issue that it is almost a “bad word” that comes out of the mouth of those sitting on the legislative floor. However, immigration also seems to be a popular theme in mainstream media nowadays. We see on the news those who want an immigration reform hold signs in front of the groups that want immediate deportation of “illegal aliens”. These images imprison our society between solely two options that have been colored by the sensationalism of biased reporters. Therefore, immigration is seen as a good-and-evil battle, an illegal-legal argument, a homogeneous issue. Perhaps immigration and those who are part of this movement have diverse stories and reasons that triggered the action of moving from their country of origin. Even though we are only exposed to images of poor, dirty, native-looking immigrants crossing the border, immigration has multiple faces.

For millions of years, people have migrated around the world… for freedom, for economic opportunity… for the pursuit of happiness (Calderin-Oliva, 2014). Currently in the United States of America (USA) for example, “one out of every five children under the age of 18 in the United States is the child of an immigrant and about two of five Hispanics are foreign-born” (De Haymes & Kilty, 2007, p. 104). The USA was built by immigrants who in part moved to the western hemisphere for freedom of religion. This opened the door (or coasts and borders) to others who were seeking different types of freedom. Currently, some of the reasons for immigration respond to personal issues, familial problems, and community discord.

It has been said in the past that many young men from Mexico and other countries in Latin America migrated to the USA as a form of right of passage where those considered “men” would move away to work and provide for their families. While poverty and limitation of financial and human resources in some countries are considerable reasons for immigration, money is not the only trigger for it. To consider this last statement individuals need to understand that immigration not only has the face of Latinos that cross the border, but the faces of families that come from all around the world. The immigration issue is not a matter of “poor illegal Mexicans”, it is a matter of universal freedom.

As a social worker I have worked with immigrants from many countries of origin. These individuals narrate to me their stories, and one time after another, they are never the same. However, sometimes these stories are framed by a common theme: violence. For example, there are people that move out of their country of origin due to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence arrive daily fleeing from their oppressors. On the other hand, some people migrate due to community violence underscored by drugs and gangs. This violence is hurting those who need us the most, the children. The reality is that,

Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up… a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis. (Nazario, S., 2014).

On the other hand, immigrants are also motivated to scape by hostile political situations. These immigrants seek a country where they are not harassed by police officers, by laws, by criminals supported by lawmakers. Violence is the root of many of our social problems and, therefore, for immigration. However, violence perpetuates a repercussion of other social problems that also provoke exile.

Many immigrants come to the USA for better education or access to education. Others come following a better healthcare system or a more accessible healthcare industry. I have heard of people staying in the USA due to better access to HIV/AIDS care, services, and medications, for example. Furthermore, others escape religious oppression (just like our ancestors) and seek a place that fosters freedom of religion. Others migrate to escape the stigma, prejudice, and hatred targeted towards their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though there are many more reasons for immigration, these should not be consider as exclusive since an intersectionality of situations are the norm.

The USA seems to have been developing a hostile sentiment towards immigrants based on the ignorance of the abovementioned factors. This sentiment misrepresents the identity of those who arrive in the USA for diverse reasons and with diverse intentions. Entitlement is not a reason I have yet seen in immigrants in my practice as a social worker. Perhaps when we are able to see the multiple faces of immigration we will able to formulate an informed-based opinion and empathy for those who just want a chance for a better life while helping sustain the country’s economy. Our immigrants made the decision of becoming one at the high cost of leaving their children and families behind and at the mercy of faith, death, and illness. Their many faces reflect blood, sweat, hope, trauma, bravery, love, and willingness.

References and Sources:

De Haymes, M., & Kilty, K. M. (2007). Latino population growth, characteristics, and settlement trends: Implications for social work education in a dynamic political climate. Journal of Social Work Education, 43(1), 101-116.

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