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We must stop Trump from destroying the US asylum system

We must stop Trump from destroying the US asylum system

  • Campaigner Melanie Nathan explains how Trump’s proposals will particularly hurt vulnerable LGBT+ asylum seekers.
Melanie Nathan, Joan Baez and friends lead the Women's March Protest in 2018 against Trump's immigration bans.

In his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump claimed Mexico was offloading ‘rapists’ at the border. And he vowed his administration would no longer accept this.

Four years later, his trajectory of scapegoating and lies has yielded the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s new rule.

This rule effectively destroys the asylum process in the United States. It is so cruel, especially with regard to its impact on LGBT+ asylum seekers, that it must be fought with great vigor.

We at the African Human Rights Coalition have just responded to the proposals.

As we said, this rule causes America to turn its back on thousands of the most vulnerable people in the world. Among them are LGBT+ people seeking safety and freedom.

The proposals would make it almost impossible for survivors of gender-based violence including women, and Lesbian, Gay , Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people – especially those lacking legal representation – to obtain asylum in the United States. 

Moreover, we pointed out that over 30 countries criminalize LGBT+ people in Africa. Some have long prison terms and even the death penalty.

As a result, many LGBT+ Africans suffer psychological abuse and physical violence at the hands of government, community and even family and friends.

LGBT+ people have nowhere to go except countries that provide equality. America has been a beacon for freedom and equality. Quite simply, turning away genuine asylum seekers is contrary to our American values.

Banner at protest against Trump's immigration policy reads: 'Families belong together! Fuck Trump!'
Protest against Trump’s immigration policies. Supplied

How Trump’s new rule would work

Most asylum seekers are traumatized people who have taken great risks and endured added violence to reach our borders for safety.

The new rule threatens to forcibly return many of them to countries where they will experience retribution, abuse, physical and psychological violence, torture, and even death.

Indeed, this rule will be a death sentence for thousands of asylum seekers. 

Our formal submission explains how the rule:

– Completely bars the granting of asylum on the basis of gender; 

– Changes the very definition of ‘persecution’. Therefore, under the rule an LGBT+ person who the police have detained due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the very reason they need asylum, might not qualify. 

– Moreover the proposal redefines some of the core grounds for asylum claims. This includes redefining what it means to member of a ‘particular social group’ suffering persecution. This could have a dire impact on women and LGBTQ individuals.

– Changes the definition of ‘political opinion’ to deny many asylum claims where people have experienced violence for advocating for LGBTQI rights. 

– Furthermore it denies asylum to people who traveled through other countries on their way to the United States. However, this is often the only way to reach our borders. Therefore asylum seekers often cross through countries where they cannot be safe because they also criminalize and persecute LGBT+ people.

– Meanwhile the rule denies asylum seekers basic due process. It robs them of their day in court by allowing immigration judges to decide cases based only on their written applications. 

– The rule also excludes those who have been undocumented in the US for over a year before seeking asylum. This even includes excluding people who haven’t come forward earlier because of extenuating circumstances, such as having PTSD. 

One 20-year-old lesbian’s story

We provided the following specific case example in our comments. We wanted to illustrate just how dangerous and heartbreaking the situation is for LGBT+ asylum seekers

It was a case I testified in as an expert witness.

The asylum seeker was a 20-year-old lesbian, with a fourth grade education and minimal English (no Spanish). She escaped her country after a family acquaintance consistently raped her to ‘cure’ her of being a lesbian.

Before her escape, she was contemplating suicide as a way out. However, a well-wisher assisted her with money and she was able to pay for passage to Brazil.

She endured a perilous journey to reach the US Southern border. But she continued her journey with unwavering tenacity because she saw America as her only hope for a life worth living in her circumstances.

None of the countries she passed through could have provided her with the safety and protection she needed.

When she finally arrived, officials detained this young lesbian for a year. But at the end of this lengthy process, the US granted her asylum.

However, under the new rule, America would have deported this asylum seeker back to her home country.

Moreover, upon her arrival, the home country authorities would know why America had deported her. She would be subjected to interrogation, and likely torture. If she survived that, she would be imprisoned or returned to her family village where the torture would resume.

This rule shames America

In our comments we noted further that the rule represents an orchestrated attack on asylum seekers. It seeks to deny freedom and send vulnerable people, mostly of color, back into the arms of oppression. 

America has always proudly led the world in aiding those seeking equality and freedom from oppression.

However, this rule reflects racist and xenophobic policies that deny our core values and our standing in the global community.

As we draw closer to the 2020 US presidential election, this rule is that insidious bookend to the anti-immigrant attack that Trump launched back in 2016. It puts a bullet in the temple of democracy and freedom.  It slashes the values engendered by our founders. This rule shames America.

Finally, we must remember that American Evangelicals are responsible for much of the heightened anti-LGBT+ attitudes in Africa. This rule would ironically close the door on those seeking refuge from the hatred our country has exported to Africa.

About Melanie Nathan and Africa Human Rights Coalition

Melanie Nathan is the executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC). 

AHRC  partners with LGBT+ communities and individuals in and from African countries seeking to claim and defend their human rights.

It supports them with advocacy, resources and direct services, including emergency humanitarian services. AHRC has a specific focus on LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers.

She also writes the Oblogdee advocacy blog.