Many of the Central American asylum seekers — you know, those men, women, and children who are legally entering our country from the south only to be called illegals and see their families split apart — are members of the LGBTQ community. These individuals face even greater obstacles than other mostly hispanic asylum seekers. The Trump administration has plotted to stop as many of these individuals from entering the country as possible to no avail.
Transgender Law Center attorney Emem Maurus said, “It’s not a deterrent in the sense of ‘Oh, I’m not going to do this right now. I’ll go next year.’ It is certainly having a practical impact, I do want to say that. These policies are causing people to be hurt, they are causing people to die, truly. These are causing a lot of harm and in that sense, they are practically impeding asylum, but I don’t know that it’s causing people to be like, ‘Oh, I’ll wait until next spring’ necessarily.”
Last year, many children had died in ICE captivity, ensuring that human rights groups would continue their calls to action to see barbaric practices stop — and also to see families reunited. But those news stories mostly ended as bigger news stories developed toward the end of the year. Impeachment sapped attention for months, and now COVID-19 has everyone looking elsewhere.
Human Rights Watch released a report that said, “The COVID-19 pandemic served as the pretext for the [border] closure, but for years, the Trump administration had adopted increasingly severe measures aimed at preventing asylum seekers from ever reaching the United States and expelling them quickly if they ever did cross the border.”
Estuardo Cifuentes told reporters for the Los Angeles Blade that he was a gay man from Guatemala seeking asylum without actually knowing anything about how the U.S. system worked. “I went back to Matamoros without knowing anything, without knowing anything about the process,” he said.
Other LGBTQ individuals have already succumbed to death because of that same process — like Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who was not provided with adequate care for her HIV when she arrived at ICE custody in New Mexico. She died on May 25, 2018, still in detention. Trans woman Medina Leon died on June 1, 2019 only three days after her release — but also due to complications from HIV that were ignored while she was detained.
LGBTQ individuals are among those most likely to seek asylum in the U.S. due to violence in Central America.
Human Rights Watch Senior LGBT Rights Researcher Neela Ghoshal said, “As long as this kind of violence and discrimination do persist, LGBT people from the Northern Triangle will continue to travel north to the United States to attempt to seek asylum and what the Trump administration has done in the last two years — which is to make asylum so restrictive that there’s barely an asylum system left to speak of — is unconscionable and it puts LGBT people at great harm.”