LGBTQI Asylum Seekers Face Many Obstacles


By Nick Duffy

The Trump administration has put forward a new immigration rule that would allow judges to dismiss applications from LGBT+ asylum seekers without even hearing their case.

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have proposed revised rules for immigration cases which would drastically narrow the eligibility of people who have faced persecution to claim asylum.

The rules would also allow immigration judges to reject asylum applications deemed “frivolous” without even holding a hearing or allowing the asylum seekers to plead their cases.

Vox and Newsweek report that one of the most drastic impacts of the changes could be for people who have fled persecution, including LGBT+ asylum seekers. Existing rules for people claiming asylum after fleeing persecution require them to undergo an initial “credible fear” screening to assess the claims they make, before having to defend their claim in immigration court.

But under the proposed changes, people would be required to have proof that they face a “reasonable possibility of persecution” in their initial asylum interview — making the process much harder to access.

People applying for asylum due to gender-based violence, including LGBT+ asylum seekers, would also have to be able to prove that there has been a direct failure of their government to intervene in their case — an impossibly high threshold to meet.

Presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has vowed to unpick the changes to the asylum system pushed through under Donald Trump, and instil new protections for LGBT+ asylum seekers.

His LGBT+ policy plan states: “The Statue of Liberty has long been a beacon to people ‘yearning to breathe free’ around the world — including to asylum-seekers and refugees.

“But the Trump-Pence administration has undermined this tradition by severely limiting the ability of members of the LGBTQ+ community, an especially vulnerable group in many parts of the world, from qualifying for asylum as members of a ‘particular social group.’ The Trump-Pence administration has also instituted migrant protection protocols, preventing individuals from entering the US while awaiting their asylum hearing.

“As president, Biden will ensure asylum laws protect people fleeing persecution. Biden will end Trump’s migrant protection protocols and restore our asylum laws so that they do what they should be designed to do — protect people fleeing persecution and who cannot return home safely.

“He will make sure LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers have access to necessary services and protections. And, he’ll ensure federal agencies are trained to identify and respond to the particular needs of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers, including by expediting services for LGBTQ+ people who may be targeted by violence or are under threat in their home countries.”

By Michael K. Lavers

An Illinois congressman on Thursday said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should release LGBTQ people in its custody as a matter of “basic human decency.”

Congressman Mike Quigley during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade criticized ICE’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting the agency is “ignoring” social distancing and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and not “providing protective gear or hygiene products to” detainees. The Illinois Democrat also said LGBTQ detainees in ICE detention centers “are treated worse in these conditions than the general population, and nobody is treated well.”

“Now, more than ever, what we’ve seen in other correctional facilities across the country is particular people who do not pose a threat are being released, or they are being released under alternative forms of detention and that’s all we’re calling for,” said Quigley. “It’s an issue of basic human decency and I think they need to do this across the board.”

Quigley in a letter he sent to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Tuesday said “detaining LGBTQ asylum seekers, especially in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, is dangerous and irrational.”

The letter, which Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and more than two dozen other members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed, also cites the case of Yanelkys Moreno Agramonte, a lesbian asylum seeker from Cuba who remains in ICE custody at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center in Basile, La.

Moreno, according to the letter, said she and other detainees at the facility did not have access to toilet paper or soap for nine days. The letter also notes “social distancing is impossible in Ms. Moreno-Agramonte’s sleeping quarters and detention staff are not required to wear masks despite the extremely close quarters and rapid spread of the virus.” (Editor’s note: Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who was in ICE custody for more than 11 months until his release from the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La., on March 4, interviewed Moreno and her partner, Dayana Rodríguez González, this week.)

“She’s experienced shortages of sanitation … nine days without toilet paper or soap,” Quigley told the Blade. “What the hell are we?”

“We don’t want to lose lives to this,” he added.

Media reports indicate two ICE detainees have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

There were 801 ICE detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday. ICE on its website also notes 5,096 detainees have been tested.

There were 24,713 people in ICE custody as of June 6.

A federal judge in California in April ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released. Advocacy groups continue to urge ICE to release transgender people, detainees with HIV and others who are more susceptible to the coronavirus.

ICE in April released four gay men with HIV who were detained in Louisiana and Arizona.

Two gay Cuban men with HIV who Immigration Equality represent were released from a privately-run ICE detention center in Texas on April 30. Immigration Equality also represents Moreno.

“They’re treated poor, they are already in a horrible situation and in the pandemic ICE isn’t

doing their job to keep people safe and frankly that puts their people, their workers at risk as well as well as everybody else in the general population,” Quigley told the Blade.

ICE on Thursday did not comment on Moreno’s case.

Wolf in April said ICE would consider the release of detainees at heightened risk for the coronavirus on a “case-by-case basis.”

An ICE statement notes it has released more than 900 detainees “after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns.” It also says there are more than 7,000 fewer detainees in ICE custody than there were on March 1.

“This same methodology is currently being applied to other potentially vulnerable populations

currently in custody and while making custody determinations for all new arrestees,” reads the statement. “Additionally, ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) has had reduced intake of new detainees being introduced into the ICE detention system coming from CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), due to reduced numbers of apprehensions by CBP under immigration authorities. ICE’s detained population has steadily dropped by more than 7,000 individuals since March 1, 2020, as a result of the decrease in book-ins when compared to this time last year, combined with continued repatriations of illegal aliens.”

The statement notes ICE’s ERO in March “convened a working group between medical professionals, disease control specialists, detention experts, and field operators to identify additional enhanced steps to minimize the spread of the virus.” ICE on its website notes it provides detainees with soap for showering and handwashing and sanitizer.

“Everyday cleaning supplies such as soap dispensers and paper towels are routinely checked and are available for use,” says ICE’s website. “Detainees are encouraged to communicate with local staff when additional hygiene supplies or products are needed.”

Social visitation at ICE detention centers remains suspended.

By Julia Ainsley

The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled a proposal that would make it harder for immigrants to claim asylumin the U.S., even after the COVID-19 pandemic. If enacted after a public comment period, the rule would allow immigration judges to throw out asylum cases before holding a hearing. During the coronavirus pandemic, nearly all asylum hearings have been postponed. Existing policy, however, says that immigrants are given an asylum hearing if they can prove to an asylum officer that they have a reasonable fear of persecution or torture if they are returned to their home country. The new rule would allow immigration judges to throw out an asylum seeker's case if they think there are flaws in the application.

Greg Chen, director of government relations for the advocacy group American Immigration Lawyers Association, said court hearings before immigration judges are often where more details that help bolster an asylum case emerge. "The proposed rule is literally the kitchen sink of asylum bans and will end any notion of asylum that still remains, recognizing that this administration has already issued so many previous bans," said Chen. "It would close off asylum for nearly all survivors of domestic violence as well as people targeted by gangs. It will short circuit due process in countless ways to make it faster and easier to deport asylum seekers effectively denying them a fair day in court." Recommended IMMIGRATIONFederal judge rules ICE courthouse arrests in New York state are illegalIf an immigrant does meet the standard for a hearing, the process will be "streamlined" under the new rules, rather than the full proceedings, which allow for a longer process. The proposed rules can be found by clicking here. Immigration judges, unlike other judges who are part of the judicial branch of the government, are employees of the Justice Department and follow guidance set forth by the Attorney General. Detained migrants say they were forced to clean COVID-infected ICE facilityIn a press release, the Justice Department said the new rules would allow the department "to more effectively separate baseless claims from meritorious ones."

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Queer Asylum Accompaniment Team is proud to support LGBTQIA asylum seekers who need sponsors. Sponsoring will allow asylum seekers to spend the months waiting for their asylum claims living in the community after leaving detention centers where they are vulnerable to abuse. 

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