Escaping Persecution and Facing Other Abuse

Immigrating to the United States isn’t easy for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, a Chicago-based attorney said last week while speaking to a group at Notre Dame Law School.

Nebula Li, a staff attorney for the Community Activism Law Alliance, appeared by video to talk about issues affecting LGBTQ immigrants.

For example, Li said, if a transgender woman came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant to escape persecution in her home country, she could be arrested and held in a men’s detention facility where she would be more likely to face abuse.

Some other difficulties facing LGBTQ immigrants have eased in recent years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act is one example.

“Since there was a federal law saying that two people of the same gender could not be married, a U.S. citizen spouse could not petition for their same-sex partner – even if their marriage was a valid state marriage,” Li said. “For the Defense of Marriage Act to be found unconstitutional was a big deal, and it helped a lot of immigration cases move forward.”

Li said it will be harder to advance rights for LGBTQ immigrants under Donald Trump’s presidency, based on his administration’s directives so far. “There is a long way to go,” Li said.

The Community Activism Law Alliance is an organization that provides community activists with legal expertise they need to pursue social change.

“As with any movement, the people who are most directly affected are pushing for change,” Li said. “It’s not a bunch of attorneys doing impact litigation, talking to clients and deciding whose case has merit. It’s the people who are actually affected, coming together and mobilizing, and saying we need to change something.”

Michael E. Durham, ’01 J.D., an immigration attorney based in South Bend, also spoke to the group and answered questions about immigration law in general.

The LGBT Law Forum sponsored the event. The Notre Dame Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild was the co-sponsor.

“We want to highlight the different ways that law impacts the lives of LGBTQ people,” said Shelby Dolezal, a third-year law student from Montana and vice president of the LGBT Law Forum.