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LGBTQ Asylum Seekers Face Risks Under Restrictive Border Policies, Human Rights First Report Illuminates

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While the Biden administration recently announced a number of long-awaited immigration actions that will protect many undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, as well as some DACA recipients, restrictive border policy announced earlier this month takes a step backward on our obligations under U.S. and international asylum law by further endangering already vulnerable LGBTQ people seeking safety, a new report from Human Rights First reveals.  

The June 4 proclamation “arbitrarily bars access to asylum to most people entering the United States at or between ports of entry without a CBP One appointment,” Human Rights First researcher Christina Asencio writes. “That asylum entry ban exacerbates and adds new barriers that further endanger LGBTQI+ and other people seeking asylum.”

Asencio’s report details some of the risks that LGBTQ asylum seekers may face under the proclamation, including being forced to wait for months in dangerous regions where “they face acute risks of anti-LGBTQI+ persecution,” kidnappings, and gender-based sexual assault (similar to the Trump administration’s inhumane Remain in Mexico policy); being wrongfully returned to persecution and other dangers due to the elimination of certain lifesaving protection screenings; and being punished for not first asking for asylum “in unsafe countries through which they transited” (see a more comprehensive overview from Asencio’s report here.)

One transgender woman detailed in Asencio’s report had a CBP One appointment on the books but was kidnapped and held for ransom along with 100 other vulnerable people. “She was forced to witness the physical beatings of other people and saw cartel members take women to sexually assault them,” the report said. “Cartel members verbally abused and threatened her on account of her gender identity.” 

While the Venezuelan asylum seeker fortunately survived her captivity and was released, she missed that essential CBP One appointment “and was stranded in Mexico, unable to access the port of entry without an appointment, and faced with the prospect of having to begin the lengthy process of requesting a CBP One appointment again.” As Human Rights First noted, some migrants have had to wait for as long as seven months for an appointment. 

“I feel desperate,” said another transgender woman who survived an assault in Honduras and was waiting in Mexico for an appointment. “At the shelter, others are stressed. Another person cries and it’s contagious – I do, too,” she continued. “All you think about is ‘the appointment, the appointment.’ I request it every day and check every day and still nothing. Tomorrow will be four months of waiting.”

“LGBT people face both generalized and unique vulnerabilities that cause many to leave their country of origin and seek refuge in another,” the UCLA’s Williams Institute said in past research. “Consensual same-sex conduct remains criminalized in 69 countries, and as many as 11 countries could impose the death penalty if convicted.” Northern Triangle nations Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador “are among the countries of origin for LGBT people seeking asylum in the United States.”

The Biden administration took the right step in 2021 by moving to end the similarly harmful Remain in Mexico policy. America’s Voice noted at the time that countless LGBTQ migrants who had been stuck at the border were able to begin the process of entering into safety to have their claims heard, including Guatemalan asylum seeker Estuardo Cifuentes, who waited for nearly two years for his chance to ask for asylum. During his wait, he ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program helping other LGBTQ asylum seekers like himself.

After being tested for COVID and boarding a bus that drove them over the Gateway International Bridge, “Cifuentes and the asylum seekers disembarked at the main bus station in Brownsville, Texas, which is two blocks from the port of entry,” the Washington Blade reported in March 2021. “Cifuentes shortly before 9 p.m. EST sent the Washington Blade a picture of himself standing in front of a sign outside of the port of entry that reads, ‘Welcome to the United States of America.’” Earlier this year, Cifuentes won his asylum case

“Today, as I celebrate this significant personal victory, my thoughts are with the thousands of migrants still waiting, still hoping, and still fighting for a chance to live freely and safely,” he said.