LGBTQ People: Suspect at the US Border
An ICE officer told my boyfriend to ‘Get with Jesus.’
According to the The Atlantic and many other news sources, US Customs and Border Patrol and ICE treat LGBTQ immigrants horribly. They shame and mock gay men, lock transgender women up in solitary confinement, and withhold critical medical care.
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According to CAP, the Center for American Progress, ICE officers overwhelmingly use their discretion to detain LGBT immigrants. “When LGBT immigrants were eligible for release because of their vulnerability and were not subject to mandatory detention, ICE detained them 88 percent of the time.”
This rate is far above that for any other group that CAP studied. Their conclusion is that ICE officers are singling LGBT people out for exclusion from the United States.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. My boyfriend was singled out by ICE years ago, and officers continue to harass him to this day. This is our story.
The officer dangled the spiked leather collar between thumb and forefinger. He let it swing for a second, then spoke, voice dripping with disgust. “I don’t suppose you own a dog?”
My boyfriend laughed, eyes glinting. “Nope,” he said. “Sure don’t, mate!”
He didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.
My boyfriend was an Australian trying to get back into Canada. I’d recently moved to Quebec — partly to make it easier for us to live together. He was a young college graduate with one of those impractical artsy degrees, and we were having a hard time getting him “Landed,” permanent resident status.
He’d been staying with friends of mine in New York for one of our forced separations, paying homage to the gods of immigration bureaucracy. If you’ve ever been in love with somebody from outside your country, you understand.
Is it just me or do Aussies all have wacky senses of humor? My boyfriend and I weren’t actually into spiked dog collars and leather. He was planning to surprise me by donning the collar and dancing around the living room with a single rose clenched in his teeth — wearing nothing but a pair of leopard-print briefs.
He fully expected me to roll around on the floor. Just what we needed after an enforced separation. He always knew exactly how to get me laughing.
He got the Spanish Inquisition instead
This should be a funny story, but it really isn’t. I’m afraid the funny bit is over. He never did put the collar on or dance with the rose; he was too upset. Before he crossed the border, he was stopped by US Immigration authorities and searched. An officer examined all his paperwork, noting that he was applying to live in Canada with his same-sex partner.
He opened his bags, found the collar, and searched his body — very, very thoroughly.
Then he sat down to interview him. Asked him why he’d been in the US, why he was leaving, and if he planned to return. My boyfriend tried to calmly and truthfully answer all the questions, but he felt shaken. After all, the man had just forced his legs apart and palpated his genitals and buttocks.
My boyfriend told me all about it the next day, over a beer in our Montreal kitchen.
So just imagine what goes on with LGBTQ people of color from developing nations, especially under the Trump Administration.
What happened next was even more bizarre —
“Jim, the dude pulled out a Bible and showed me highlighted verses. He asked me if I wanted to turn to Jesus!”
I spit out half a mouthful of my Unibroue beer. “What the fuck?”
“He said my collar told him that I might not be a person of ‘good character’ and he might have to put that in my file.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I wanted to say, but I didn’t.”
“Then what’d he do?”
My boyfriend’s voice started to shake. “He told me I needed help. That he was going to pray for me. He asked me to pray with him. He said, ‘You gotta get with Jesus, boy.’”
“God damn it, I’m calling our lawyer right now!”
He was shaking because he felt violated and powerless. My stomach clenched for the same reason. I felt angry and protective, but I also felt fearful, reminded that lots of powerful people would take pleasure in hurting us just for being who we are.
Our lawyer couldn’t help. We never did find out what the officer did with my boyfriend’s file. But every time he’s crossed into the US since, he’s been pulled aside for further questioning and harassed. Our lawyer helped us file a Freedom of Information request with immigration authorities, but they never sent us the documents we asked for.
Why am I writing about this today?
Let me be blunt. My boyfriend and I are white, highly educated, relatively prosperous men from developed countries. We have access to paid lawyers, and we aren’t afraid to buck the system.
Despite all that, my (now former) boyfriend has had problems entering the US for the last 15 years. Only because he’s gay. He doesn’t have a single other strike against him — nothing but that dog collar and his avowal that he was in a romantic relationship with me.
So just imagine what goes on with LGBTQ people of color from developing nations, especially under the Trump Administration. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Check out my links. ICE is greeting LGBTQ people at the southern border with appalling neglect and active cruelty.
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Due to calloused policies, LGBTQ immigrants in detention report high rates of sexual assault and sexual abuse. Trans woman Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez was so neglected and abused that she died in custody.
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Fleeing from gang members who were killing trans women in her country, she managed to walk all the way from Honduras, but once she applied for asylum, she was badly beaten and denied medical care, according to LGBTQ Nation.
According to observations of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernández Rodriguez, the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.
The autopsy also found signs that Hernández Rodriguez had been beaten while in custody.
“Deep bruising” was found on her hands and abdomen “indicative of blows, and/or kicks, and possible strikes with blunt object.” An accompanying diagram showed several thin long bruises along Hernández Rodriguez’s back and sides as if she was hit with a baton.
She also had “extensive hemorrhaging” on her wrists “typical of handcuff injuries” according to the report.
I don’t have a hard time believing that LGBTQ people are harassed, neglected and abused by US immigration officers. I don’t have a hard time believing that US officers inform their actions with religious belief systems that stigmatize LGBTQ people.
I’ve been there. I’ve seen it happen.
I really thought that things were getting better, but with the Trump Administration kowtowing to evangelical Christians, things are going downhill fast. The Administration is scrubbing equal treatment language from their websites and guidance policies at a blinding pace.
They’re rolling back legal protections for LGBTQ people at the federal level almost completely. Violence levels are up, public acceptance has begun to decrease for the first time in decades.
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People like that officer who told my boyfriend to “get with Jesus” have to be feeling empowered and invulnerable. They know their bosses are with them. They know that the anti-LGBTQ Christian zealots Trump has seeded at the highest levels of the federal government have their backs.
It’s a scary time to be LGBTQ
Do you take your safety, security, and access to legal protection for granted? If you live in a developed nation and you’re white, straight, cis, and relatively well educated, you probably do. It probably never occurs to you to be nervous around law enforcement. You probably don’t look over your shoulder much when you’re out at night.
You probably feel safe most of the time.
I wrote this story to show you how it feels to know you aren’t safe, to know your safety depends on the whim of people who are taught that you’re abnormal and not quite “right.”