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LGBTQ Undocumented Population Faces Unique Struggles

Contributing Author: Shelby Juarez

Published: January 14, 2016


Rarely do people discuss the connections between the LGBTQ communities and issues of immigration. Nearly 300,000 adults in the United States today identify as LGBT undocumented immigrants. This equates to 30 percent of the LGBT immigrant community. Further, there are an estimated 32,300 binational same-sex couples in the Unites States.  [1]


This means that only one of the individuals is a native-born US citizen. The LGBTQ community has in the recent past faced issues of not having their same-sex marriages recognized by local and federal authorities, creating negative financial consequences.

Individuals who identify as LGBTQ and are also undocumented face higher obstacles and more complex barriers than activists housed in either camp can address sufficiently.

US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) implemented a tool to determine whether immigration detainees should be released in 2013; however, actual detention rates remain high compared to recommendations by the RCA tool that was implemented. Numbers show that ICE officers elect to detain LGBT immigrants at shockingly high rates.[2]

Keeping the numbers of unnecessary confinements of LGBTQ immigrants down is critical. A recent study by UC Irvine shows that 67 percent of nonheterosexual California prison inmates reported sexual assault, compared with 2 percent of heterosexual inmates. [3]

Of those undocumented LGBTQ people who are not detained, many find themselves isolated from their local LGBTQ communities. Many LGBTQ organizations have difficulties finding available resources for undocumented individuals or where to look for those resources. This stems from a compartmentalized understanding of these individuals that keeps people from understanding the unique challenges faced by undocumented LGBTQ individuals. Often, they also feel isolated and alienated from local LGBTQ social circles. Having a full-time service coordinator dedicated specifically to addressing the unique challenges LGBTQ clients face allows for Triangle Community Center to combat this disconnect by bringing in law professionals to advise our undocumented population.

Likewise, organizations dedicated to helping undocumented individuals find information and understanding about their sexual identity or health often does not have LGBTQ-competent professionals who can handle those inquiries responsibly or respectfully. In these circumstances, undocumented individuals are sometimes forced to put those concerns about their sexual identity aside and feel forced to wait a long time before they are able to truly explore their own identity with whatever form of guidance or support they may be seeking. 

Many undocumented LGBTQ individuals experience the feeling that they must run away from their emotions or sense of confusion and rejection when it comes to their sexual identity. They face struggles getting health insurance to pay for mental and physical wellness visits.[4]

At places like community centers, undocumented individuals may find free support groups, pro-bono legal services and counseling, and may find a sense of community.  There are many organizing groups that work to connect undocumented individuals of all varieties (families, youth, advocates, allies) such as DREAM. Danilo Machado, TCC’s 2015 scholarship winner, sits as a a community chair for this organization. Organizations like DREAM are much more comprehensive in their understanding of the ways in which each individual faces unique obstacles similarly and differently. This is important because an understanding of this interconnectedness is where the progress for the future lies.

Legislation that addresses the needs of undocumented people comes only from the push of those advocates who have an understanding of what it means to be undocumented, where the greatest need lies, and also an understanding of the uniqueness that exists within the umbrella community of the ‘undocumented.’ Triangle Community Center applauds these advocates as it continues its own work addressing the lived equality of these individuals through service coordination and community engagement.

For more information on resources for undocumented individuals within the LGBTQ community, please contact [email protected]

[1] Frost, Christopher. (2013, March 8). “267,000 LGBT People Are Undocumented Immigrants.” Available from

[2] Gruberg, Sharita. (2015, May 14). “No Way Out: Congress’ Bed Quota Traps LGBT Immigrants in Detention.” Available from

[3] Jenness, Maxson, Matsuda, and Sumner. (2007, May 16). “Violence in California Correctional Facilities: An Empirical Examination of Sexual Assault,” Center for Evidence-Based Corrections Department of Criminology, Law and Society. UC Irvine. Available from

[4] Manriquez, Stephanie. (2015, June 5). “For immigrants, status and stigma affect mental health, few resources exist.” Available from

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