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  • LGBTQI Asylum Seekers Face Many Obstacles


By Estuardo Cifuentes

LGBTQIA+ people from around the world who come to the U.S. Southern border seeking safety from escalating discrimination and violence are now met with an impossible new system that denies us our human rights. Under Title 42, we struggled to find pathways from persecution in our home countries. When it was lifted on May 11, Biden replaced it with an asylum ban that forces us to stay in unsafe conditions while we try, and fail, to make an appointment on an app that does not work.

A gay asylum seeker myself, I experienced first-hand the challenges of proving my worthiness of protection under Title 42. Homosexuality is criminalized in a third of the world’s countries, forcing LGBTQIA+ people to face violence, harassment and discrimination, sometimes from our own government authorities. The Title 42 policy launched at the beginning of the COVID emergency prevented us from making an asylum case properly, leaving us in a state of vulnerability and without the protection we desperately needed. We faced increasing risks as we navigated detention or processing centers and were forced to return to countries where our lives were in danger.

I am now the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon, where we coordinate legal services for thousands of LGBTQIA+ people fleeing danger, like I once did. Every day, I see how Biden’s new asylum ban makes pleading such claims nearly impossible. One of our clients, Mario, poses the perfect example.

Mario, a gender non-conforming Guatemalan asylum seeker from the Maya Qʼeqchiʼ community, carries on their late father’s legacy as a traditional herbal medicine expert and human rights advocate. In March 2022, they organized peaceful protests against the country’s homophobic “protection of life and family” bill, which was later passed by the Guatemalan Congress. However, their involvement led to persecution and torture by government-affiliated leaders, who accused them of witchcraft. Expelled from their community under indigenous “laws,” Mario sought refuge within Guatemala but faced ongoing persecution. Surviving two firearm assassination attempts, they fled to the United States’ Southern border to seek asylum.

Arriving at the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge, Mario exercised their rights under international law to express their intent to seek asylum directly to a Customs and Border Control asylum officer, the proper process before the U.S. government introduced the notoriously glitchy CBP One app earlier this year. Introduced to create an “orderly” means of arguing an exemption to Title 42, the app instead created yet another barrier to accessing asylum. Instead of accepting their declaration, the officer instructed them to use the app to make an appointment wherein they would check a box claiming they were exempt from the Title 42 public health emergency, and receive an appointment to tell their story and hopefully receive parole so they could begin the asylum process.

Mario managed to get access to a smartphone, but their limited literacy and unfamiliarity with technology posed challenges. The app failed to recognize their darker complexion during the photo capture process, as it did with numerous asylum seekers. Still, Mario did not give up: They struggled to secure an appointment every day, fearing their inability to verify their identity or meet the app’s listed vulnerabilities would hinder their right to request asylum. After 90 days of unsuccessful attempts and increasing dangers in Matamoros, they finally could not wait any longer and chose to instead risk crossing the hazardous river near the International Bridge to enter the U.S. They were intercepted by CBP and processed. Following a 72-hour case review, Mario received one-year parole, enabling them to pursue their asylum case in a safer environment.

If this new asylum ban had been in place, Mario would not be here today. They would have to prove that they had first sought asylum in Mexico, or figure out how to use an app that is not available in their language, or simply be forced to remain in a place where they had received numerous threats on their life. And had they attempted to cross, they would be deported “home” to a country that is notoriously hostile to LGBTQIA+ people, especially those with darker skin, and prohibited from seeking asylum in the U.S. again for five years.

This is now how asylum law works. Under existing asylum procedures that have been the law of the land since 1980, when Title 42 lifted on May 11, Mario should have just been able to walk up to an asylum officer and plead credible fear of harm based on their membership in a persecuted group. However, instead, the Biden administration pushed through critical, harsh changes to how asylum seekers on our southern border can seek protection, directly endangering our community and our lives.

It is not too late for the Biden administration to ensure that the new asylum rule does not exclude or discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people seeking protection in the United States. First, the administration should train immigration officials on the specific challenges facing our community, including understanding the laws and situations facing LGBTQIA+ people in different countries; this will guarantee a fair and appropriate evaluation in each individual case, and will avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices that can lead to wrong decisions. Second, the administration must put mechanisms in place to provide legal advice and emotional support to people in our community seeking asylum, as we often face additional barriers due to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, the administration must fulfill its promise to create alternative pathways for people at imminent risk of harm, including our community members fleeing oppression.

The LGBTQIA+ community deserves an asylum system in the U.S. that recognizes and protects our fundamental human rights. Only then can we build an asylum system that reflects our values of equality and justice for all.

Estuardo Cifuentes is the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon.

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By Trudy Ring, The Advocate

Human rights groups are criticizing President Joe Biden’s new policy on asylum-seekers, saying it’s as restrictive as the one enacted by Donald Trump or possibly more so.

The policy comes as the pandemic-related restriction known as Title 42 is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Under Title 42, put in place in 2020, immigration authorities could turn back migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and deny them the right to seek asylum, with the rationale being that it was a way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Previously, unauthorized migrants could cross the border and usually remain in the U.S. if they declared they were seeking asylum. Many of those who want asylum in the U.S. are LGBTQ+ people who have been persecuted in their home countries.

With the Biden administration’s new rule, published Wednesday and set to go into effect with the end of Title 42, it will be harder for migrants to apply for asylum. “Under the rule, migrants who cross the southern border without authorization will be presumed to be ineligible for asylum if they can’t prove they previously requested protection in a third country,” CBS Newsreports. “In practice, it will disqualify most non-Mexican migrants who enter the U.S. between ports of entry from asylum.” They are expected to be turned back.

There will be exemptions for those who make an appointment to enter the U.S. via a mobile app, for unaccompanied children, and for those who have what the policy calls “exceptionally compelling circumstances,” such as a medical emergency or being the subject of extreme threats. There will also be certain accommodations for families.

A similar policy established by Trump’s administration before Title 42 was struck down in court, and the new Biden policy may meet the same fate. “We will sue as we did under Trump,” Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union told CBS News. “The core illegality is the same.”

The Biden administration has argued that its policy isn’t like Trump’s because it offers more options to enter the U.S. legally, such as the phone app. Administration officials also say the policy will discourage migrants from endangering themselves by dealing with smugglers. But border crossings were expected to surge with the end of Title 42, something that would be denounced by the right, so the new policy reflects the political climate.

Among those objecting to the administration’s plan is Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ+ immigrants’ rights organization. The group notes that LGBTQ+ migrants from Central and South America often encounter persecution, including physical violence, in Mexico and other countries that pass through, and it calls the phone app “notoriously inaccessible.”

“We are astonished by the administration’s callous disregard of the dangers President Biden’s asylum ban imposes on LGBTQ refugees,” Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford said in a press release. “In the final rule — scheduled to go into effect once the Title 42 policy is lifted — the administration doesn’t meaningfully address or fix problems with the ban we identified in the notice and comment process. Instead, using circular logic, the administration dismisses our concerns, and doubles down on the illegal implementation of the ban. This ban is a travesty that will cause LGBTQ refugees (and others) with strong, meritorious asylum claims to be sent back to countries where they will be persecuted or killed. By implementing this ban, instead of humane solutions that would effectively and compassionately manage the border, President Biden has broken his promise to protect LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees.”

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By Jackson Ambole

Inside the secret safe house protecting Kenyan LGBTQ+ young people and their mothers

On the morning of February 20th, 2023, Grace Njeri*, a 48-year-old mother of three was forced out of her matrimonial home of 18 years by her husband after their 18-year-old son publicly came out as gay. Marisa Crane’s new novel is a queer dystopia, but they’re dreaming of a queer paradise LGBTQ Nation chatted with author Marisa Crane about kink, queer utopias, and which lesbian icon they’d want to battle on the basketball court.

“My son came out as gay via an Instagram video that went viral,” Njeri told LGBTQ Nation from a safe house in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “My husband and his family rejected and disowned him and what followed was me being forced to bear the blame.”

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Njeri said she was accused of being the cause of her son’s sexuality. They were both asked to leave the family home.

Rejected and abandoned with no money, no job and nowhere to go, Njeri and her son found themselves at a safe house that has been offering shelter and support to hundreds of LGBTQ+ people.

“I lost a family and home I had built and invested in for 18 years and the pain is heavy on me,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

As the debate in Kenya rages on over LGBTQ+ people’s rights — with a section of Members of parliament already seeking to pass legislation that will outlaw and ban LGBTQ+ activities — one group is silently bearing the burden, paying the price simply for being their mothers.

Nowhere to run

Njeri is among thousands of Kenyan mothers whose children are increasingly identifying openly as LGBTQ+.

In the secret LGBTQ+ safe house on the outskirts of Nairobi, dozens of mothers and their LGBTQ+ children have found solace and safety after having been thrown out of their homes and hunted by a society that is largely conservative and homophobic.

Jesse Kibera,* the founder of the safe house, told LGBTQ Nation that since the start of March 2023 they have housed at least 50 women and 120 LGBTQ+ people who had been either thrown out of their homes, workplaces and schools or were running away from potential and pending homophobic attacks. Kibera added that most of the housed mothers had no idea their children were gay until they came out of the closet.

“The majority of the mothers we are housing are victims of forced divorces after their sons or daughters came out of the closet,” Kibera said. “For the LGBTQ persons, most of them had been attacked while others had been threatened with attacks by neighbors, friends and family.”

“Between March and April, we have received requests from a total of 300 women seeking accommodation in our safe house, but our capacity can only hold 200.”

Grace Adhiambo, 50, says she was excommunicated from her local church days after her 23-year-old daughter, who is a content creator, publicly came out as a lesbian. She says the church told her that it would be an abomination to continue having her as a member.

A former choir member, Adhiambo says things got worse after her husband threw her and her daughter out of their house.

“We had nowhere to run to and a friend to my daughter linked us up with this safe house that has now become our home,” Adhiambo said.

“My husband told me to go seek a solution to my daughter’s sexuality, which he described as sickness, and he stopped paying university fees for her.”

According to Kibera, most of the mothers at the safe house are suffering mental trauma.

“Most of them are yet to get out of the shock that came with being rejected and trolled by people close to them. We have deployed enough counselors to help the women get through the process.”

The rise of hate

38-year-old Mwanaisha Juma was forced to start a new life with her 18-year-old gay son after her husband of 20 years migrated from Kenya to Tanzania to “shield away from shame of raising a gay child.’’

Juma was left with no option but to move into a rented apartment after her husband sold their family home before moving to Tanzania.

“I had no job because for all those years, I was a housewife with no income,” Juma told LGBTQ Nation.

She added, “My husband accused me of bad parenting and child upbringing, something he said was the cause of my son being gay.”

A local women’s support group helped Juma set up a business to sustain herself and her son.

In recent months, anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech has increased both online and offline following a ruling by the Kenyan Supreme Court that said the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) is allowed to officially register as a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Government, political, and religious leaders condemned the ruling.

Kenya’s President William Ruto led the country in criticizing the ruling by saying, “We respect the Supreme Court’s decision but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. Our values, customs and Christianity do not allow us to support same-sex marriages.”

His deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, called the Supreme Court decision “satanic and repugnant to morality and way of justice”.

Two lawmakers have already proposed a total ban of LGBTQ+ discussions and life sentences for any person found promoting or engaging in homosexuality.

Back at the safe house, some women were too traumatized to grant interviews, and those who had the courage to talk occasionally broke down.

Ann Wamukoya told LGBTQ Nation she was fired from her workplace after her employer discovered her son was gay.

“I was employed in a restaurant and my son would occasionally visit my place of work. He became friends with my boss’s son but when my boss learned about his sexuality through social media, he fired me the next day.”

Things got worse for Wamukoya when her husband turned against her and asked her to take her son back to his father or leave the house.

“My own husband disowned our son in his presence and asked me to choose between taking him to his father or leaving the house for good. Since I didn’t know of any other father to my son, I chose to leave for my own peace and that of my son.”

A vital support system

The mothers at the LGBTQ+ safe house have formed a support group to help each other through the psychological trauma and also to help their children, some of whom are also battling rejection in school.

“We felt that when we share our experiences, it becomes easier for us to get out of the complex emotional situation we are in,” Nancy Matere told LGBTQ Nation.

The safe house is working with LGBTQ+ rights groups to help some of the mothers obtain access to legal aid in pursuit of their marital rights.

“We cannot keep them here for long because of limited resources,” Kibera said. “After some time, we will release them and offer them help to establish small businesses that can sustain them.”

*Names with * have been changed for safety

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