President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant stances and actions have worsened the immigration crisis in Central America, where many are fleeing violence and poverty — a crisis that is affecting LGBT immigrants disproportionately.
In Shadows: Escalating Immigration Crisis in Latin America
According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute in 2015, an estimated 190,000 undocumented adult LGBT immigrants from Latin America — mostly from Central America — are residing in the United States, with individuals at risk as they face heightened levels of harassment, discrimination, physical and psychological abuse, often even from their family and community.
LGBT immigrants held in U.S. detention centers face even more dire circumstances, where administrative segregation similar to solitary confinement is frequently used as a so-called "safety measure" by authorities that subject LGBT immigrants to undue psychological hardship.
According to a 2013 report released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs — a group of organizations dedicated to ending all forms of violence against and within LGBT and HIV-affected communities — stated there was a 50 percent increase in reports of violence against LGBTH (the H meaning HIV positive) undocumented individuals between 2012 and 2013.
In Limbo: Worsening Refugee Crisis in the "Banned" Nations
In January, when Trump launched his travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and other refugees, the announcement immediately affected those living in limbo fleeing U.S.-backed conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen, among them LGBTs.
According to the Rainbow Times, in early January 2014, Mohamed, a gay man from Syria applied for asylum, and as of February 2017, he has not been granted a hearing on his application. In January 2017, he applied to extend his Employment Authorization Document, EAD, a legal permit that would allow him to work in the United States pending asylum.
He told the Rainbow Times that he lives in fear under the Trump administration that he could be deported back to Syria if his EAD is not renewed, where he could face persecution for his sexual orientation.
International Refugee Assistance Program focuses on the most vulnerable refugees throughout the Middle East, including LGBTs, and is one of the only organizations that provides direct legal assistance to LGBT refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
For the LGBT refugees already in line, even if the resettlement is later resumed, the executive order that prioritizes resettlement for religious minorities — and deprioritizes all other categories of refugees — pushes LGBT refugees even further down the list.
In any case, approved applicants undergo an extensive screening process in the U.S. where even before Trump's visa restrictions, LGBT refugees were frequently turned down for a valid visa owing to factors such as lack of employment, family ties, and low homeownership rates, IRAP’s Deputy Legal Director Lara Finkbeiner said.
According to the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, members of the LGBT community from high-risk zones like Syria have been able to get "emergency" placements since the UNHCR reserves a small number of spots for them, where they can leave the country in less than a year, rather than in a few years it usually takes.
Neil Grungas, executive director of ORAM told the Pink News, “The number of LGBT people who make it through the system alive and request resettlement is small, it does not even reach the tip of the percentage of LGBTQI people that are represented in the international population.”
Non-confirming LGBT asylum seekers might be at an even higher risk of deportation. The asylum seekers in the U.S. are required to file their petition within a year's time, but thousands of otherwise legitimate refugees are denied asylum protections because they fail to apply due to fears of rejection or exposure.
“People are just absolutely terrified to come out, and rightly so, they will be dead, they will be dead if they come out,” Grungas said. “The consequence is severe hardship for people who’ve already fled some horrific trauma.”