North Carolina legislation aims to discredit undocumented people. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

LGBTQ immigrants exist. Despite some of the outdated laws relating to immigration in North Carolina, queer people continue to flock to the state. According to the 2019 census, eight percent of North Carolinians are foreign-born people. Why? In short: the alternatives of persecution, harassment, violence and even death in their home countries make North Carolina look like a promised land. 

Candelario Saldana has worked with LGBTQ and immigration issues throughout his personal and professional life. “As an undocumented LGBTQ immigrant, the fear of calling the police surpasses all,” Saldana explains, “Unfortunately, within the community, these people experience high levels of domestic violence, but, in being unable to call the police, they may be forced to stay with an abuser.”

Saldana goes on to explain that those in such a position are often made to weigh the consequences. Calling the police may mean deportation and deportation may be a fate worse than mental, emotional or physical abuse. These types of decisions are nothing new to the 47 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. 

A 2014 study found that 32.1 percent of non-citizens lived below the poverty line in North Carolina. This same survey shows that 2.5 percent of North Carolinians were, at the time, naturalized citizens and 5.1 percent were non-citizens. The undocumented are also not permitted to get a driver’s license or pay in-state tuition. 

As of July 16, 2021, a block has been placed on all recent and pending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. This includes the 35,000 immigrants in North Carolina who have been deemed eligible for the DACA program. As well, North Carolina has a far lesser likelihood of providing immigrants with legal representation in courts of law in general and in deportation cases. 

Republican North Carolinian Representative Madison Cawthorn introduced the “No-Fly for Illegals Act.” This bill aims to ban federal funds from being used to source airlines that allow for undocumented immigrants to travel throughout the country. The only exceptions permitted in this bill are individuals who are in the process of being deported. 

“I [was] undocumented for 27 years,” Saldana reminisces, “I finally naturalized, but I remember living in fear every day of what was next.” Now an accomplished lawyer, a majority of Saldana’s cases are related to LGBTQ immigrants. In providing aid to queer people from around the world, Saldana says the experience leaves him in constant awe of the privileges that many Americans take for granted. 

Saldana is currently working on a pro-bono case with an HIV-positive Jamaican man who was residing in South Carolina. “Even in a state that isn’t known as the most welcoming to LGBTQ people in the U.S.,” Saldana says, “he [the client] said that it was so much better than his home country because he felt free to live as [himself].”

Although the United States is more accepting than other nations, it has yet to recognize the contributions and significance of non-documented immigrants. Right now, there is a shortage of service-providing employees available to work in the midst of the pandemic, in additon to the lack of incoming migrants. Saldana emphasizes that, should all undocumented people be deported, the country would fall into economic turmoil. 

In order to create a safer and more welcoming environment for immigrants, changes must be made on a national and local level. Thanks to the efforts of Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, Charlotteans will not be detained for ICE by local law enforcement. These seemingly small scale changes can lead to greater economic and social mobility. 

There is an intense lack of comprehensive mental and physical healthcare for LGBTQ immigrants. Immigration Equality has been engaging the community for over 25 years in the hopes of creating an environment of inclusivity for all LGBTQ immigrants. Their ultimate goal is to obtain asylum for all HIV-positive and queer people who are unsafe in their home countries. 

The Immigration Legal Resource Center has also published a comprehensive guide titled “LGBTQ Immigration: Ensuring Equality for All.” Making resources accessible may be as simple as voting in local elections, translating files into multiple languages and creating LGBTQ-inclusive religious organizations for those outside of the Catholic/Christian denominations. 

“Immigrants aren’t heard because they fear that if they speak, they will be arrested, deported or dismissed,” Saldana explains. 

“Allow them to speak through you,” he adds, “rather than speaking for them.”

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