By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Mar. 21, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – They call themselves the “undocuqueers”, undocumented immigrants who are gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. All of them are fighting to become legal here in America.

A recent report released by the Williams Institute at UCLA shows that out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated in America today, about 267,000 adults identify themselves as members of the LGBT community.

One of the leaders of the “undocuqueer” movement is Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, undocumented Filipino Jose Antonio Vargas, who said his grandfather was upset when he came out as gay because the plan was for him to marry a woman and get his undocumented status fixed.

Longtime lesbian partners Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado have also become leaders in the “undocuqueer” movement. They are a picture of a happy family. They have been together for 27 years now and have raised 16 year-old twins, Jashley and Jorien.

Shirley is undocumented. Jay, an American citizen cannot file a petition to legalize her status, because, as a gay couple, they cannot marry. Immigration laws limit this benefit to married heterosexual couples, when one partner is an American citizen and the other a foreigner.

Jay said, “It will feel great if I can file an immigration petition for Shirley. It means that America is giving me the right to petition for her as my partner, as my better half.”

The Uniting American Families Act, recently introduced as a bipartisan bill, aims to give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights offered to heterosexual couples. These are currently denied to gays and lesbians under the Defense of Marriage Act.

But Shirley and Jay said there is a bigger chance for this bill to be passed, if it’s part of the comprehensive immigration reform package.

Shirley said, “If this passes, it means that in America, there is equality among people.”

Shirley, who is undocumented, is able to temporarily stay in the country only through a private bill passed by Senator Diane Feinstein. Her children said, it’s about time America truly becomes a country of opportunity for all people.

Jashley said, “Of course, there should be equality. America’s constitution says that all men are created equal.”

Joriene said that his parents should not be forgotten when Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill. He said, “We don’t want families like us to be separated.”

President Obama has proposed to treat same-sex couples equally by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to petition their partners.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at for more information.

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