LGBTQ Groups Sue Trump Administration for Restricting Asylum Claims

President Donald Trump's latest attempt to curtail immigration could wreak havoc on LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers.
Reuters/ Carlos Barria

Immigration advocates filed a lawsuit December 21 demanding the Trump administration reverse course on a rule that could restrict LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers in the United States.

The new filing from Immigration Equality, the Transgender Law Center, and other advocacy groups aims to halt the administration’s attempts to restrict who receives refugee status in the US. Along with eliminating refugee status for anyone with a gender-based claim — which impacts queer folks — the rule would wipe out due process for many refugees and even discard cases of those who did not seek asylum in countries they passed through on their way to the US.

In June, the administration published the proposal. Within a month, the public had to review and offer feedback on the 161-page document. Many agencies were scrambling to draft suggestions.

Aaron Morris, the executive director of Immigration Equality, told Gay City News the administration largely ignored their feedback. Morris said this forced advocates to file a lawsuit.

“They only took a few months to review them, basically bat them all away, and then didn’t really change that much,” Morris said. “If this law goes into effect, there will be thousands of people who are sent back to places where they will be tortured and killed.”

Immigration Equality executive director Aaron Morris is sounding the alarm in response to the Trump administration’s asylum rule.Donna Aceto

 

The Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review announced the final rule in a 419-page document earlier this month. Under the new policy which take effect on January 11 asylum seekers must claim “credible fear of persecution or torture” if they’re fleeing their home country.

The rules also require immigrants prove a “severe level of harm that includes actions so severe that they constitute an exigent threat,” the document states.

Furthermore, the rule largely dismisses asylum cases stemming from abuse inflicted by private actors, which could impact LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers who have faced persecution from family members or folks in their community. Individuals seeking asylum could also be forced to share their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status because the rule requires folks to elaborate on the social groups they belong to if they want their cases to be considered.

While it is unlikely that the court will strike down this rule in the next couple weeks, Morris said the group is asking that the court issue an emergency motion. This could stop implementation as the courts decide whether the rule is legal.

Advocates have dubbed these anti-immigration efforts “death to asylum.” Caroline Kornfield Roberts, executive director of Oasis Legal Services, a group representing LGBTQ asylum seekers, condemned the rule as “immoral” and “illegal.”

“Due to the severity of the persecution our clients have suffered, we win 99 percent of our cases,” Roberts said in a written statement. “Under this new rule, over 80 percent of our clients could be barred from protection, facing deportation and death in their home countries.”

According to Morris, the latest rule is a “warping of the law.” This could make it nearly impossible for asylum seekers to convince a judge of their case.

“If you think of a transgender woman from El Salvador coming to the United States on foot, it may well take her more than 14 days even to walk through Mexico,” Morris said regarding the rule’s restrictions on immigrants who stayed in a transit country for two weeks or more. “Even if she’s eligible, even if she has a super compelling case, she doesn’t deserve it.”

President-Elect Joe Biden is expected to unravel many of the Trump administration’s actions on immigration, though members of Biden’s transition team conceded on December 22 that it will take some time complete those steps. Biden will take office nine days after the asylum rule is slated to go into effect.

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