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  • Gary Carnivele

Briefing on LGBTQ Asylum Seekers Takes Place on Capitol Hill

By Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade

A briefing on the plight of LGBTQ asylum seekers took place on Oct. 23 at the Russell Senate Office Building.

Two asylum seekers — a transgender woman from El Salvador and a gay man from Nigeria — spoke at the briefing that Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress moderated. Jennifer Quigley of Human Rights First and Richard Kelly of Center Global also participated. The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the American Civil Liberties Union, Immigration Equality and the Transgender Law Center are among the groups that co-sponsored the briefing.

The briefing took place against the backdrop of continued criticism over the treatment of LGBTQ detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and the Trump administration’s overall immigration policy.

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans Salvadoran woman, died in a Texas hospital on June 1, three days after ICE released her from their custody. Roxsana Hernández, a trans woman with HIV from Honduras, was in ICE custody when she died at a New Mexico hospital in May 2018.

An autopsy that New Mexico officials performed on Hernández found she diedfrom Castleman disease associated with AIDS. The Transgender Law Center — which represents Hernández’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security that oversees it — requested a second autopsy that found Hernández was beaten before her death.

Andrew Free, an attorney who represents Hernández’s family, during an interview with BuzzFeed last week said ICE and CoreCivic, a private company that operates Cibola County Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility in Milan, N.M., where Hernández was detained before her death, deleted surveillance video of Hernández. An ICE spokesperson declined to comment to BuzzFeed on the allegations.

An immigration judge last month granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Washington Blade contributor who suffered persecution in his native Cuba because he is a journalist. ICE has appealed the ruling, and Valdés remains in the agency’s custody at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La.

“The Trump-Pence administration continues its horrific and immoral crackdown against people escaping violence in their home countries,” said HRC Global Director Jay Gilliam in a statement he sent to the Blade after last week’s hearing.

“HRC is proud to work with our partners like Center Global and so many others to raise up the voices of those who are simply seeking to live their lives in safety and without fear,” he added. “Whether they are fleeing because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or because of instability in their home countries. America must restore its place as a beacon of hope and welcome them here.”

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