LGBTQ asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border are enduring sexual abuse, medical neglect, violence, and lack of shelter and legal representation in their quest to flee harsh conditions in their home countries.
These issues add to an already complicated situation at the border that has been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s decision to hold asylum seekers in Mexico and limit the amount of people allowed in on a daily basis.
“This policy is creating confusion and chaos, and we have seen time and time again that when LGBTQ are forced to wait at ports of entry for weeks — or now even months or years — before being able to seek asylum in the US, they are singled out for ongoing violence,” said Jackie Yodashkin, who serves as the public affairs director for Immigration Equality, a national LGBTQ immigrant rights organization.
The holding of asylum seekers in Mexico adversely affects their right to secure effective legal representation and puts them in danger of being subjected to homophobic and transphobic discrimination and violence, Yodashkin said.
Lawyers are also scrambling to find sponsors to house their clients in a timely manner, but they have struggled to do so — especially for their transgender clients. Allegra Love, who is the executive director of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, told Buzzfeed that transgender migrants are being detained longer because of the inability to find US sponsors for them.
A number of groups have made inroads in their work to assist sexual minorities at the border. The Refugee Aid Project (RAICES), a nonprofit immigration legal services provider based in Texas, has provided transportation and housing support for LGBTQ people there, and has helped inform them of their rights.
Immigration Equality boasts a 99 percent win rate in the cases it has handled due to the strength of asylum claims submitted by LGBTQ people who are fleeing the 80 countries “where it is a crime or fundamentally unsafe to be LGBTQ,” Yodashkin said.
But when the US agencies are the ultimate gatekeepers, the advocacy groups can only go so far. Gay City News reported last week that an independent autopsy following the death of Roxsana Hernandez, who died in ICE custody, revealed she suffered bruising consistent with abuse. Advocates allege that Hernandez, who was HIV-positive, was not provided with proper medical care and was badly dehydrated.
“In 2017, a shelter for transgender migrants was set on fire, and we continually hear reports that LGBTQ asylum seekers in Mexico are being targeted for violence,” Yodashkin explained.
A Center for American Progress report earlier this year noted that openly LGBTQ people in ICE custody are 97 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence compared to non-LGBTQ people.
The same report highlighted the case of Laura Monterrosa, an El Salvadoran queer asylum seeker who reported to ICE in 2017 that she was sexually abused by a guard multiple times. Despite Monterrosa’s allegation, ICE closed her case and she attempted suicide before being moved to isolation, where officials tried forcing her to recant her accusation. A judge, who ordered ICE to provide mental heath care for her, finally released her.