by Alex Melnick
arts & life editor
Felipe Sousa Rodriguez immigrated to this country, alone and only 13, to escape a life of poverty in Brazil. How? He got really tan and said he was going to Disney World.
When Felipe got to customs in Florida, they asked the young Brazilian a multitude of questions he did not understand, as he did not speak English fluently at the time. Before he left his home country, his mother told him he should answer all questions with an insistent “Disney World.” Overwhelmed in that customs office, faced with a mass of adults questioning him in a foreign language, Felipe said the magic word: “Mickey Mouse.” He got in.
Felipe, is the director of the LGBTQ rights organization Get Equal. Instead of pitting causes (such as LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights and others) against each other, Get Equal is all about intersection of needs.
Felipe recently came to Millsaps College at the behest of Amnesty International and Millsaps Friday Forums to speak about the intersection of LGBTQ rights and immigration policies. Felipe is a proud “undocuqueer,” a term that has recently surfaced to describe the undocumented LGBTQ population in the United States. The term “undocumented” itself means someone who is in this country without residency or permanent papers guaranteeing their stay.
Get Equal emphasizes the importance of securing the rights of undocumented people in America. Someone who is undocumented cannot go to the police for assistance. They often cannot receive higher education. Many of them came here as children—alone or with family—and now have no guaranteed recourse to help them stay in the only country they have ever known.
When we factor in being LGBTQ and undocumented, the situation becomes even more dire. They cannot receive legal protection or aid from hate crimes, access to urgently needed medical care (such as HIV/AIDS medication or hormones needed for transitioning genders), obtain a green card, or marry a partner (one potential route to legal citizenship). You could live in the country for 20 years and be deported the next day for a speeding ticket.
Immigration rights are a human rights issue.