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LGBTQ Central Americans need asylum and America needs them

 LGBTQ Central Americans need asylum and America needs them
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One can safely assume that LGBTQ asylum seekers are not welcome in Trump’s America. At the intersection of two marginalized identities — LGBTQ and immigrant — LGBTQ asylum seekers are especially vulnerable under the current administration. The fates of persecuted LGBTQ people fighting for their lives loom uncertain.  

From tightening regulations on asylum qualifications related to gang violence to locking more asylum seekers in immigration detention, LGBTQ asylum seekers have already been targeted by this administration. Many are victims of gang violence and many, especially trans asylum seekers, are severely mistreated in detention. In addition, trans and gender non-conforming asylum seekers are re-traumatized as this administration continues to challenge their very humanity.

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And the worst may be yet to come.

As reported by the Washington Post, the Trump administration is now considering a plan to block Central American migrants from applying for asylum.

This plan would prove to be a death sentence for many Central Americans — certainly for members of the LGBTQ community. According to a 2017 Amnesty International report, LGBTQ people face brutal violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala). For example, the report confirms 264 anti-LGBTQ murders in Honduras between 2009 and July 2017.

The administration is also considering requiring immigrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are pending — a first step in the asylum process that many LGBTQ asylum seekers would likely not survive. The U.S. asylum process can take years to conclude and LGBTQ people in Mexico continue to face strident homophobia and transphobia.  
Although Mexico abolished most discriminatory legal distinctions based on sexual orientation well before the U.S., it remains a dangerous place for LGBTQ people.

The legal landscape of a country does not guarantee LGBTQ people their basic right to walk down the street without fear of physical and emotional harm. Equality also requires social acceptance and proper enforcement of legal protections. It is here that Mexico fails.

LGBTQ people in Mexico are frequently targeted by police, neighbors and strangers. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in Mexico it is common practice to classify investigations regarding attacks on the lives and physical integrity of LGBTQ people as "crimes of passion." 

More than 200 members of the LGBTQ community were killed in Mexico in only three years, an average of six homicides every month between 2014 and 2016. In June, three prominent LGBTQ activists were murdered near Mexico City. Gay men are routinely targeted by robbers and gangs and trans women face particularly brutal violence on a daily basis. 

In 2016, as part of a UNHCR study, LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees that came from the Northern Triangle were interviewed. It was discovered that they suffered sexual and gender-based violence in Mexico after crossing the border at blind spots. The reality is that widespread anti-LGBTQ violence currently causes many LGBTQ people to leave Mexico in order to seek protection in other countries, such as the U.S.

As co-founder and president of a nonprofit helping LGBTQ asylum seekers find safe resources, I’ve seen the consequences of these policies up close. From the fear tied to the constant proposed shifts in asylum policy and frequent attempts to roll back LGBTQ civil rights, to the real human beings who will likely never find safety if this administration’s blatant bigotry is allowed to become law.

To be clear, the only thing “contrary to the national interest” is denying persecuted people their legal right to claim asylum. We are not only unplugging persecuted peoples’ final lifelines; we are also losing the invaluable addition of strong, profoundly resilient people to our country. The truth is we need LGBTQ asylum seekers as much as they need us. 

America will never be great without asylum.

Katie Sgarro is co-founder and president of AsylumConnect, a tech nonprofit creating the first online resource catalog for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S.