Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

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Immigration Project Overview


LGBT people from all over the globe come to the United States for many different reasons. Some come to escape civil unrest. Others seek a better life for their children. Some fall in love with an American citizen. And still others flee, simply and most crucially, because their very lives are at stake.

LGBT immigrants face specific and varying challenges that other immigrants don’t, and U.S. immigration laws unfairly discriminate against LGBT people. As immigrants, their lives here often are precarious and endangered. With our unique expertise and experience, NCLR is committed to helping overcome the immigration hurdles faced by LGBT immigrants.

Since 1994, NCLR's Immigration Project has provided free legal assistance to thousands of LGBT immigrants nationwide through:

  • National intake service and free monthly legal clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Direct representation of LGBT immigrants in impact cases and individual asylum cases
  • Assistance to private attorneys representing LGBT immigrants in their proceedings before the Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, Federal Courts of Appeal, and U.S. Supreme Court
  • Immigration policy reform that pushes for inclusion of LGBT partners in petitioning for U.S. citizenship, including helping to draft the Uniting American Families Act (currently being reviewed in the U.S. Congress)
  • Informing the legal profession through extensive publications and studies involving LGBT immigration and asylum law

immigration project director | Noemi Calonje

Noemi Calonje was born and raised in Managua, Nicaragua. At the age of 14, her family immigrated to the United States due to the unstable political climate in her home country. Her family applied for political asylum in 1982, and it was granted ten years later.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of California, Davis in 1991, Noemi worked as a counselor at FamiliesFirst, a non-profit organization serving troubled youth in the Bay Area. In 1994 she joined NCLR and has continuously dedicated herself to assisting and supporting the LGBT immigrant community. As the Director of NCLR's Immigration Project, Noemi coordinates NCLR's free monthly legal clinics, responds to LGBT immigrants seeking information and assistance from NCLR, represents NCLR at conferences and workshops nationwide, and acts as NCLR's liaison to the broader immigration rights community.

She is also a volunteer interpreter for the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and currently attends SFSU to complete her Paralegal and Court Interpreter certifications.

immigration project | history

In 1994, NCLR established a national project dedicated to immigration issues. Since those early years NCLR has provided free legal assistance to thousands of LGBT immigrants nationwide. During the mid-1990s, NCLR recognized the needs of LGBT people attempting to immigrate to the U.S. or to simply stay here with their families or partners. The Immigration Project has proved invaluable to our clients and our community as immigration policy and reform—as well as LGBT issues—have come to the forefront of our nation’s discourse.

immigration project | major accomplishments

NCLR’s Immigration Project has made significant legal gains for LGBT immigrants. As part of its larger asylum work, this year we published a comprehensive study on the successes of lesbian asylum claims (read the report (pdf)). Almost every year since 1994 we’ve successfully argued on behalf of LGBT immigrants seeking asylum within our borders. And as the national policy debate surrounding immigration reform continues to heat up, we are at the epicenter of those discussions, pushing for inclusion of LGBT people, families, and partners. With this multi-faceted work, we are creating a history of case law and policy that will one day lead to full and complete justice.

immigration project | the work we do

Uniting American Families Act
NCLR assisted in drafting the Uniting American Families Act (formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act), legislation that would enable U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition for visas on behalf of their same-sex partners.


Asylum for LGBT People and People with HIV and/or AIDS
Asylum is a legal protection for people who have been persecuted, or who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted, because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.


Transsexual Spouses and Immigration
Transsexual people who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are able to marry a different sex partner in many states and many countries worldwide. U.S. immigration law holds that marriages involving a transsexual spouse must be treated the same as others and thus can be the basis for immigration benefits, so long as the marriage is valid where enacted.


immigration project | how we can help

NCLR is committed to helping overcome the immigration hurdles faced by LGBT immigrants. U.S. immigration law unfairly discriminates against LGBT people. Please contact NCLR today if you are:

  • Currently in the U.S., facing deportation back to your country of origin, where you were formerly abused or persecuted, or lived in fear of abuse or persecution, because you are LGBT
  • A lawful resident or citizen of the U.S. wanting to bring your partner to the U.S. permanently
  • Experiencing difficulties in the adjudication of an application for permanent residency based on a marriage involving a transsexual spouse
  • Are in need of any other LGBT-specific legal help in your or your family member's effort to immigrate to the U.S.

Free National Telephone Information for Immigrants and their Attorneys
NCLR's national intake service provides legal information to immigrants and their attorneys. Immigrants with general immigration and asylum-related questions and inquiring attorneys can contact NCLR at 415.392.6257 or e-mail immigration@nclrights.org.

Free Legal Clinics
NCLR sponsors regular, free legal clinics in San Francisco that give foreign nationals the opportunity to meet with attorneys familiar with the specific circumstances of immigrants in the LGBT community. All consultations are private and strictly confidential. To arrange an appointment at one of our upcoming legal clinics, please contact NCLR at 415.392.6257 or e-mail immigration@nclrights.org.

Please contact Noemi Calonje (se habla espaņol) if you have any questions or need help.

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