Democratic senators demand Biden administration protect LGBT+ asylum seekers

More than 11,400 people applied for asylum protections from LGBT+ persecution between 2012 and 2017

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 09 August 2021 22:16
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A group of Democratic senators have urged the US Department of State to ensure the protection of LGBT+ asylum seekers following President Joe Biden’s February executive order directing federal agencies to advance human rights for LGBT+ people.

The senators have also asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken for more details about his department’s February pledge to use a “broad range of diplomatic and programmatic tools and resources” to protect LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers.

Their letter – written by Senator Amy Klobuchar and signed by 13 senators – points to the more than 11,400 applications for asylum on the basis of LGBT+ status between 2012 and 2017, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA’s School of Law.

In a memo issued on 4 February, the president called on the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to “enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that [LGBT+] refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance”.

That day, Secretary Blinken said his agency would “use a broad range of diplomatic and programmatic tools and resources to protect vulnerable [LGBT+] refugees and asylum seekers,” among other commitments.

“We write to commend the State Department for taking swift action to implement President Biden’s expansive commitment to ‘pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of [LGBT+] persons around the world,’” the senators wrote.

“At the same time, we also write regarding the need for additional steps to support [LGBT+] asylum seekers,” they said.

According to the Williams Institute, roughly 2,000 credible fear interviews for asylum based on LGBT+ status occurred in 2016 and 2017, “proportional to an overall increase in defensive asylum claims during those years”.

At least 69 countries criminalise same-sex sexual acts, and at least nine countries target transgender and gender nonconforming residents by criminalising gender expression, according to Human Rights Watch. At least seven countries maintain the death penalty for same-sex conduct.

US law provides that anyone entering the country is eligible to apply for asylum, a form of humanitarian protection for those fleeing violence and persecution from their home countries.

Donald Trump’s administration obstructed the asylum process by replacing the US Citizenship and Immigration Service “first-in, first-out” policy with a “last-in, first-out” policy that prioritised new arrivals and ballooned wait times for asylum seekers who already spent years for asylum eligibility interviews.

The previous administration also proposed a rule to disqualify LGBT+ asylum seekers who claimed they feared persecution, but the measure was blocked by a federal judge.

Immigration advocates have also criticised the Trump administration’s reliance on a public health rule through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “wreak havoc” on families and the immigration process, according to Human Rights First.

“While the Trump administration’s use of public health authority to evade US refugee law was specious from the outset, the continued misuse of this authority to endanger the lives of people seeking protection is all the more inexcusable and absurd” against the nation’s progress towards combating the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent report from the organisation.

“The Biden administration appears to be continuing this illegal policy as an immigration policy tool – to attempt to deter refugees from seeking life-saving asylum protection,” according to the report.

The continued use of Title 42 provisions to deter migrants leaves LGBT+ people “vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, bias-motivated abuse, food and housing insecurity, and other forms of violence,” according to Emem Maurus, an attorney with the Transgender Law Center, and Julia Neusner, a legal fellow at Human Rights First.

Within the first six months of the Biden administration, the organisation recorded more than 3,200 attacks against asylum seekers expelled from the US at its southern border with Mexico.

The group found that “Black and [LGBT+] asylum seekers blocked in Mexico under the expulsion policy continue to experience targeted discrimination and violence”.

In their letter, the group of senators asked the State Department for a status update on its “global strategy to address discrimination” against LGBT+ people and how “Congress can assist in these efforts”.

The letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Ed Markey, Patty Murray, Alex Padilla, Jacky Rosen, Bernie Sanders, Tina Smith, and Elizabeth Warren.

The Independent has requested comment from the State Department.

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