www.ambiente.us  SEPTEMBER / SEPTIEMBRE 2008

A Washington Warrior Takes on the Battle of the Double-Edged Sword
by Steve Ralls

“You really pick ‘em!,” one colleague
exclaimed when Julie Kruse asked them
to be a reference for new job with
Immigration Equality, the national
organization working to keep
bi-national couples together and
defeat discriminatory practices against
HIV+ immigrants.  But Kruse, no stranger
to uphill legislative battles, was
undeterred.

Fresh off of her work helping to
coordinate the first Congressional
hearings on the federal “Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel, Kruse put down one sword, and picked up a
double-edged one:  She’s now tackling two of the toughest legislative issues in America, immigration and
LGBT rights.

“I have always worked for niche organizations that are issue area experts and that are small, nimble and
flexible,” she says.  “These are the organizations that have credibility, and can turn on a dime and seize
opportunities for victory.  Immigration Equality is just such an organization; it has great clarity of goals,
strategy and passion.  [Executive director] Rachel Tiven and [former policy advocate] Adam Francouer have
built a visionary and effective policy strategy.  I’m honored to be able to stand on their shoulders, and
continue to build the fight.”

Immigration Equality already has one significant victory under its belt.  Earlier this year, the organization led
the charge to repeal the HIV travel and immigration ban, a cause championed by Senator John Kerry (D-MA)
in the Senate, and recently signed into law by President Bush.  As the organization now works to convince
federal agencies to implement the change in law, attorneys also continue their groundbreaking work on
asylum cases, helping LGBT immigrants find an escape from hostile climates in their home countries.

“The reason Immigration Equality has so much credibility is because of our outstanding legal services,”
Kruse told Ambiente.  “Our legal director, Victoria Neilson, literally wrote the book on asylum for HIV-positive,
transgender and lesbian, gay and bisexual people.  The fact that we speak to clients every day means that
our policy agenda is rooted in the real needs of LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants and their families.”

Neither LGBT rights nor immigration policy are new areas for Kruse, who spent many years in Chicago doing
community organizing, teaching English to immigrants and working on cultural exchange programs between
immigrant, African-American and Native American communities in the Windy City.  Most recently, she served
as interim director of legislative affairs for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, convincing lawmakers
to topple the ban on open service and pass legislation welcoming gay Americans into the armed forces.

“I love challenges and battles,” she says.  “I worked to get more women into construction jobs; when
affirmative action in construction was created in 1978, women were 3% of the workers . . . today, they’re still
3% of the workers.  And I worked for low-income and immigrant taxpayers on Capitol Hill, a place where
thousands of lobbyists lobby about taxes for corporations and wealthy folks.”

Many of the clients Immigration Equality serves today also face economic hardship – an often overlooked
obstacle in their quest to find a permanent home in the United States.  
“One thing that D.C. lawmakers don’t understand, as they try to add hoops to jump through and fines and
costs and travel and on and on to the process of becoming a legal resident, is that most working folks just
can’t afford it,” Kruse says.  “And that’s imply now what we’re about as a nation.”

Kruse’s own story is one built upon the possibility of the American dream.  Her grandmothers were from
Germany and Mexico, and her father was a refugee from Nazi Germany – an “enemy alien” who went on to
receive a full scholarship to Harvard from Pepsi.  And her step-children, Elvin and Arelys, are Puetro Rican.  
“They’re grown now,” she says, “but they keep me real.”

Those stories have always inspired Kruse to tell the stories of individuals who are impacted by the issues
she’s advocating in Washington.  During her time with SLDN, she helped to publicize the stories of men and
women discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and while in Chicago, she urged the public to listen to the
stories of hard-working immigrants who were being marginalized by their adopted communities.

“I focused a lot on bringing the stories the voices and stories of immigrant families to D.C.,” she recounted to
Ambiente.  “I’m thrilled to be able to do that at Immigration Equality again.  We have legal services, so we
know what clients are really experiencing, and we have a huge constituent base of bi-national couples and
families who are completely frustrated with having to choose between their families and their country
because they can’t sponsor their partners and their kids.”

Those stories, which Immigration Equality is uniquely suited to tell, are the driving force behind the group’s
work to pass the Uniting American Families Act, which would level the playing field for bi-national, same-sex
couples and apply immigration law to them just as it pertains to heterosexual couples.  The legislation just
picked up its 100th co-sponsor in the House.

“My philosophy of advocacy is bringing the voices of people impacted by policies to Congress and the
administration,” she says.  

And she’s not afraid of battling that double-edged sword which, she says, is really about the common thread
that runs through all of her passions and work:  The idea and ideal of full citizenship for those who work hard
and play by the rules.

“Since LGBT people are prohibited from participating fully in the rights and responsibilities Americans enjoy
– the ability to get married, serve in the military, work without fear of discrimination, etc. – I feel we are not
really full citizens,” she says.  “That is something LGBT people have in common with many hard-working
immigrants and their family members who contribute to our society, pay taxes and value family and
community, yet are denied full participation in society.”

For more information on Immigration Equality’s work, visit www.immigrationequality.org.

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