Wednesday, March 07, 2007

LGBT Asylum seekers in the US

Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton is on the Episcopal Church's Executive Council. One response they have made to the Nigerian legislation that would criminalize advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community, they have urged the US government to "grant asylum to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, or those advocating for their civil rights, who seek such protection, and commit the Episcopal Church to aid in their resettlement."

I'm particularly interested in the immigration issue. The US does indeed grant asylum for persecution based on sexual orientation. I personally know of one Indonesian man who is seeking asylum. The penalty for "sodomy" is 14 years in Nigeria, so even if the new legislation fails completely, Nigerian LGBT folk who want it probably have a better than average chance of obtaining asylum. I hear they've granted asylum to LGBT Singaporeans ... and while "sodomy" is illegal there and LGBTs aren't allowed to politically organize, I don't believe they are persecuted to the degree they are in Nigeria. The "sodomy" laws aren't enforced (I believe), and a whole bunch of political organizations wouldn't be allowed to organized if they tried, so the LGBT group that tried wasn't alone.

That said, there are problems. LGBT asylum seekers often face identical prejudices from their immigrant communities. Having a supportive immigrant community can be key to successfully adjusting, particuarly if English isn't one's first language or the asylum seeker isn't familiar with American culture. Just figuring out taxes or credit or other finances, for example, is a nightmare. Hiding sexual orientation and living in your ethnic community is stressful and dangerous.

Additionally, judges can be capricious. Because of the stringent requirements for asylum, this is a category where a judge's prejudices can come to the fore. The article below details two Egyptian men, who were lovers, who submitted very similar cases to two different judges. One was accepted, one was denied. And anyway, it looks like the national denial rate for asylum seekers is 65%.

Aswad and Zaid (the ficticious names of the two Egyptians) did not know that they could apply for asylum based on sexual orientation. They overstayed their 6-month visitors' visas, which certainly did not help their cases. They sought asylum around the time of the 9/11 attacks, which likely hurt. Additionally, if they were an opposite-sex couple, and if, for example, Aswad were granted asylum, Zaid could have been granted asylum as a derivative of Aswad's status. As a same-sex couple they could not do this, but ironically, their same-sex relationship would have helped cement their case. And it was their case, not two cases, no matter what the laws say.

Finally, Americans of all people should understand patriotism. LGBT people abroad may or may not want to migrate to the US. We should indeed set up the conditions for them to seek asylum here safely, and we should make our offer public. But, attitudes need to be changed by people on the ground, and if they request our help doing that, we should offer it.

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