LGBTQ+ Immigration Laws
by Judy Bokao
Immigration is one epidemic most countries across the world are grappling with. People leave their countries for so many reasons — some leave because of political or tribal warfare. Others leave in search of a better job and life because the grass is sometimes greener on the other side. They are also those who leave to seek asylum because their lives are in danger. There are LGBTQ+ people who have been forced to flee their origin country after coming out or being ousted. They would be in mortal danger if they stayed. This happens mostly to LGBTQ+ people who live in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime and the punishment ranges from wrongfully imprisoned for years to torture and execution. Over the years, cases of people fleeing their homes because of their sexual orientation have been on the rise, but very few people are really paying attention to the plight of the LGBTQ+ immigrants; very few are truly listening to their stories. Unlike other immigrants , LGBTQ+ immigrants face another particular set of challenges.
In East Africa, there have been overwhelming cases of Ugandan LGBTQ+ individuals seeking safety and asylum in various countries like Kenya. The number of LGBTQ+ immigrants has been rising after Uganda passed its Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2013. Most of these immigrants are recently-out teenagers and gay men in their late twenties. The LGBTQ+ immigrants’ hopes for a safe environment were quickly thwarted because Kenya has little difference in terms of its attitude towards homosexuality. They ended up being discriminated all over again in their refugee shelters. They were threatened by other refugees, police, and other camp officials. The situation eventually got so bad that most of the LGBTQ+ refugees had to be moved into ‘protection areas’ which offered more security — but in turn increased their visibility.
In America, the Trump administration has been accused of being harsh to LGBTQ+ immigrants by institutionalizing cruel immigration policies — especially for asylum seekers who are running away from violence in Central America. A UNHCR study in 2016 showed that 90% of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees reported suffering sexual and gender-based violence in their home countries. The US is accused of leaving hundreds of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers stranded on its border with Mexico . According to the San Diego LGBTQ+ Community Center and RAICES, most LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are stuck waiting for weeks for their cases to be heard. The Trump administration is causing the delay which is particularly perilous for LGBTQ+ individuals who face dangers from the police and Mexican citizens.
Most LGBTQ+ asylum seekers also reported cases of being discriminated by other asylum seekers. They were discriminated against and people would not let them in their trucks, allow them to shower, and name-called and bullied them. In most cases, things got so bad that they had no choice but to split from the main group of asylum seekers because they are fearing for their lives. Upon arriving in America, their hopes for a better life is left to be nothing but an illusion because they soon realize even though America may have passed legislation that is favorable to LGBTQ+ people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that life as an LGBTQ+ American is easy. Most American queer people are still dealing with challenges such as discrimination, employment*, housing, health care access, education and killings.
Transgender immigrants are at a higher risk and have an even harder time trying to get documented. Trans women face harassment from those employed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There have been horrific cases where trans women have been sexually abused by the ICE male employees. They have been forced to sleep, shower and use the restroom with men with no privacy for an extended period of time. The trans women also face harassment from ICE employees such as insults, violence and different forms of humiliation like being strip-searched in public. Instead of feeling protected and safe in these ICE detention centers, they end up feeling exposed and unsafe. Most of them undergo trauma that leads to different mental health issues.
It is important for LGBTQ+ immigrants to reach out and speak up. There are many organizations that are supporting LGBTQ+ immigrants in the process of being documented and settling into their new country. They are ready to help for free and offer legal services and have programs that teach useful skills such as job readiness, housing, language access, and education. They empower LGBTQ+ individuals and help them understand their rights and help them achieve their dreams and realize their full potential. There is a whole safe community to reach out to in different states , don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
*Today, June 15th, the SCOTUS ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ employees and stated that Title VII also includes sexuality & gender for the community.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.