Anthony Advincula

Labor Shortage: Germany Needs More Immigrants

BERLIN, Germany — Yves Pierre, 34, traveled around the world for over a decade looking for a land of opportunity - a place to live where he could have steady work in order to support his family back in Haiti. When he found a job with a multinational cruise line based in Berlin, he embraced Germany as his new home.

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Binational Gay Couples Optimistic, Hopeful About DOMA Ruling

Felipe Sousa-Rodríguez is waiting to hear news this week that could change his immigration status and his life.

He and his partner, Juan Rodríguez, live in Tampa, Fla. Because same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in their home state, they went to Massachusetts last year and took their wedding vows.

Sousa-Rodríguez, 27, is an undocumented immigrant from Brazil; his partner, 24, is a legal U.S. permanent resident from Colombia, and has already filed an application for his U.S. citizenship.

But as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected this week to hand down the ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Sousa-Rodríguez’s immigration status could change.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the DOMA provision that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples, thousands of binational same-sex couples (who were legally married in one of the 12 states that allows same-sex marriage) will be eligible to file a green card application for their foreign spouse — an immigration benefit that is currently available only to heterosexual married couples.

“I can’t predict what the Supreme Court would do. But, if that’s the case [that it repeals the DOMA provision], it would be great,” said Sousa-Rodríguez, who is co-director of GetEqual, a group that seeks legal equality for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals. 

However, like many married binational same-sex couples, where one spouse is a foreign national and the other is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, Sousa-Rodríguez expressed concerns about the impact a repeal of DOMA would have on his immigration status.

His most pressing question: Are we eligible even if we live in a state like Florida, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized?

The answer, according to Steve Ralls, communications director of the advocacy group Immigration Equality, is yes. “If DOMA is repealed in the Supreme Court,” said Ralls, “a green card application for same-sex couples is going to be based on where the marriage was celebrated and not based on the couple’s domicile.”

Ralls said that while some provisions of DOMA are complicated, such as what this will mean for taxes due to the lack of legal precedence, the immigration benefit is very clear. 

He says his organization is getting ready for what could be a massive change for same-sex binational couples.

“We have already been preparing applications for same-sex couples. In fact we’re now training 120 attorneys on how to handle their cases,” Ralls said. “I have not seen this kind of preparatory work before.”

A long journey

Sousa-Rodríguez was born and raised in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. When he was 14, his mother became seriously ill and sent him to the United States so that his older sister in Florida could take care of him.

Without any options to file a petition to stay permanently, he overstayed his tourist visa. Despite the risks of getting detained or deported, he went to school and excelled academically.

In 2008, according to Souza-Rodriguez's profile on the Huffington Post, the American Association of Community Colleges ranked him as one of the top 20 community college students and the best student in Florida.

Sousa-Rodríguez is not new to the immigration reform movement.

In the winter of 2010, while he was at Miami Dade College, Felipe, Juan and two other immigrant students walked 1,500 miles from Florida to Washington, D.C., to protest the record deportations of immigrants being carried out under the Obama administration.

Although he came out as gay and undocumented in 2008, the walk to Washington, D.C., was the first time he made national headlines. 

“I was finally able to embrace my full self,” he said. “It was not an easy journey and it's a journey I'm still walking.”

Since then, Sousa-Rodríguez has continued to push for an immigration overhaul that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. He has been approved to get an employment authorization document through Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But he is pushing for comprehensive immigration reform for all undocumented immigrants.

“My job is to fight for all different components of the immigration movement,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. “Whether it is for binational same-sex couples, the DREAMers, or those seeking asylum, I’m here for equal rights.” 

Silver lining

Although many conservative Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, civil rights advocates are optimistic that the Supreme Court will repeal the DOMA provision that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

“Even the lower court says that it is unconstitutional,” Ralls added. “We’re very hopeful for the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The Supreme Court is also expected to announce its ruling on Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California.

Ralls said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court hands down only one ruling on Monday, but expects that the court “will likely give some additional ruling by the end of next week.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, reintroduced last week the amendment to include same-sex binational couples in the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill. 

In the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Leahy’s measure was left off the table, after some lawmakers voiced concerns that including the amendment could “kill” the immigration reform bill.

Leahy’s reintroduction of the bill on the Senate floor, advocates say, opens another possibility for equal protection and immigration benefits for the LGBT community, although observers say its chance of being approved by the Senate is a long shot.

Still, Sousa-Rodríguez remains hopeful that he will be granted the same rights as other couples, including the ability to apply for legal residency through his spouse.

“I believe it will happen soon,” he said.

Clinton: Diaspora Populations Can Turn 'Brain Drain' into 'Brain Gain'

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized on Wednesday the crucial role of diaspora communities in national and global development efforts, emphasizing their potential to solve problems in their home countries and spur U.S. economic growth.

“By tapping into the experiences, the energy, the expertise of diaspora communities, we can reverse the so-called ‘brain drain’ that slows progress in so many countries around the world, and instead offer the benefits of the ‘brain gain,’” she said at the opening ceremony of the second annual Global Diaspora Forum.

Speaking to about 500 diaspora community leaders, advocates and senior U.S. officials, Clinton cited the support of Syrian Americans and organizations as an example of how the Syrian diaspora serves as a link between the international community and opposition activists to address the ongoing civil uprising in Syria.

“I want to recognize the work of Syrian diaspora organizations to shine a light on what is happening in Syria and to carry the concerns of the Syrian people not only onto the pages of American newspapers, but also into the halls of Congress,” she said. “They’re helping to collect funds and humanitarian assistance for Syrians who are suffering because of this terrible violence.”

This year’s forum, titled “Moving Forward by Giving Back,” focused on how to foster partnerships between diaspora communities and the U.S. government to address global challenges. The two-day event also drew members of the ethnic press— including Ethiopian, Filipino, Haitian, Latino and African-American news outlets—from the nation’s capital to Virginia, Maryland and New York.

Migration Policy Institute, New America Media, USAID, United Nations Foundation, and a number of private companies supported the forum.

Speaking about her recent trip to Asia, Clinton told the story of a Vietnamese-American entrepreneur who brings famous American brands into the Vietnamese market, generating thousands of jobs and in the process bringing Vietnam and the United States closer together.

“That’s one way the diaspora has and continues to make a difference, but it’s certainly not the only way,” Clinton said.

She added that the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA)— a network of private sector, nonprofit and government agencies that she launched last year— has also expanded its initiatives. One of these is a collaboration between Canadian, U.K. and U.S. governments to finance innovative business proposals from the Caribbean diaspora in order to generate employment and increase economic growth in the Caribbean.

Similar efforts by the communities are taking place in Liberia, Tunisia and in Latin America.

Thomas Debass, director for global partnerships for the State Department’s Global Partnership Initiative, was hopeful about the direction of the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance.

“Through IDEA, we’re evolving and recognizing diversity, utilizing that asset and our American diplomatic relations around the world,” he said. “We’re creating a footprint and certainly taking the diaspora’s commitment into action to benefit both their home countries and the United States.”

Debass admitted that the initiative is a work in progress, but said he was confident that the alliance would continue to carry out its goals around diplomacy, innovation and economic development.

“We’re not at the promised land yet, but we know that we are on the right track to advance causes that we care about,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Clinton praised the ways immigrant communities have revitalized American cities like Baltimore, Md., which may be losing its economic luster due to dwindling populations. When cities struggle, she noted, the presence of immigrants replenishes their strength and vitality.

“The fact is that the United States has always benefited from the influx of talent and dynamism that diasporas of all kinds bring to our shores. And so they are reaching out and inviting— opening the doors of that venerable American city to immigrants from everywhere,” she said. “We are well aware that our diversity is one of our greatest assets in the 21st century.”

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