This World Refugee Day and Pride month we need to save LGBTQ asylum
Every year, thousands of LGBTQ people arrive at the U.S. border to ask for asylum because they have experienced persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in their home countries. Many carry with them the emotional, psychological and physical scars of the trauma that has driven them to seek asylum. The U.S. has long been a safe harbor for them.
However, since taking office, President Donald Trump has sought to radically curb legal immigration. So far, his administration has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the United States to a record low, restricted who is eligible for asylum and illegally forced asylum seekers out of the country, orchestrated thousands of family separations, withheld medical care resulting in the deaths of at least 39 immigrant adults in ICE detention centers, doubled the wait times for U.S. citizenship and used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to indefinitely extend a ban on U.S. land borders.
Simultaneously, the administration has sought to roll back LGBTQ rights. Just last week, during LGBTQ Pride Month and on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the administration announced it is reversing Obama-era health care protections for transgender people in an attempt to compromise transgender patients’ ability to fight against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies. Despite The Supreme Court’s latest ruling in favor of LGBTQ rights, such blatant and repeated attacks on trans rights by the government can prove especially devastating for trans people who fled from persecution in their home country to find a safer environment in the United States.
It is vital to recognize that these dual erosions of U.S. immigration and LGBTQ rights disproportionately harm those at the intersection: LGBTQ people who are seeking asylum. Even under more progressive administrations, LGBTQ asylum seekers are forced to navigate multiple marginalized identities, such as immigrants, LGBTQ and often persons of color. These compounded marginalizations result in LGBTQ asylum seekers being especially vulnerable as compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, as well as frequently forgotten in larger conversations on LGBTQ and immigration policy.
We must not forget them now.
Last week, the Trump administration announced a new proposed regulation that would deliver the most significant blow yet to LGBTQ asylum seekers. The 161-page rule lists a series of sweeping changes that would make it even more difficult to successfully claim asylum in the U.S. LGBTQ lives are at stake and need to be included in this conversation. For example, the new rule threatens to redefine how people qualify for asylum in the U.S., including restricting the definition of “membership in a particular social group.” Since 1994, the “particular social group” (or “PSG”) clause is how people fleeing persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation or gender identity have claimed asylum in America. Narrowing the definition of “membership in a particular social group” could lead to denials for those claiming asylum on the status of anti-LGBTQ persecution. The new rule seeks to eliminate gender-based asylum, such as a transgender person who is claiming asylum because of violence and death threats in their home country due to their gender identity.
The ramifications on LGBTQ lives of allowing the Trump administration to implement this new rule cannot be overstated. Members of this community fleeing persecution have less resettlement options than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. Not only must a queer asylum seeker’s destination country be welcoming to asylum seekers, but it also must be LGBTQ friendly to truly be safe.
Even with an administration that hasn’t stood up for this population, America overall still fits this criteria for persecuted LGBTQ people seeking basic refuge. If we take U.S. asylum off the table for queer people, we are shattering the hope of ever living authentically for the millions who are currently trapped in homophobic and transphobic environments where they cannot live freely.
As World Refugee Day overlaps with LGBTQ+ Pride Month, now is the time to challenge this administration’s pattern of disregard for the unique needs and obstacles faced by persecuted LGBTQ people. During the open comment period for the Trump administration’s proposed asylum regulation, those with expertise in asylum and LGBTQ rights, as well as concerned citizens have an obligation to vehemently oppose its implementation and ensure the government understands the urgency of preserving U.S. asylum protections for those fleeing anti-LGBTQ+ persecution. Anything less will be to forfeit America’s position as a leader on LGBTQ+ rights.
Katie Sgarro is the co-founder and executive director of AsylumConnect. Follow them on Twitter @katiesgarro.
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