As we celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month, we cannot forget those for whom visibility and celebration come at a high risk to their safety. Far too many immigrants and immigrant families live in constant fear because of the Trump-Pence administration’s cruel and reckless policies.
More than 300,000 non-citizens are held in immigrant detention centers each year and the majority of them will end up in privately-run facilities where federal performance standards regarding their treatment are regularly disregarded without repercussions.
For LGBTQ immigrants, this lack of accountability puts their lives at risk.
Roxana Hernández, a transgender asylum seeker from Honduras, died in ICE custody in May 2018, and almost exactly one year later, Johana Medina, a trans asylum seeker from El Salvador, died just hours after being released from ICE custody.
“It’s really hard to wear all of the colors of Pride right now when we have LGBTQ people seeking asylum in very dangerous and life-threatening conditions,” said Sissi Yado, HRC senior field manager. “There’s a lot of love out there that can be very healing, but we can’t forget the need to help asylum seekers get the support that they need to be safe.”
Yado, who is based in Texas, has volunteered with groups working directly to support immigrants arriving at the southern border since 2014. Yado describes their work as a “bridge” based on the needs identified by people on the ground.
“Early on, the resources were not there when folks were seeking LGBTQ-specific immigration assistance,” Yado said. “We played a big role in connecting organizations working in the field to folks who were arriving and in need of immediate help.”
Ensuring safe places and supportive environments are especially important for LGBTQ immigrants. According to information provided by ICE in response to a request by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), LGBTQ immigrants are detained twice as long as other immigrants and also face lengthy stays in solitary confinement despite ICE regulations that stipulate its use as a last resort.
For transgender women, the situation is even more precarious. Trans women were detained on average more than twice the average length of detainment of all immigrants held in ICE custody during fiscal year 2017. Transgender people have also consistently reported harassment, assault and maltreatment from ICE officers due to their transgender status.
“On the local community level, especially in San Diego, there are many emergency shelters popping up because people are coming in from the border and have nowhere to go,” said Tessa Cabrera, an immigration lawyer and HRC San Diego volunteer. “Officials are bringing them in and dropping them in the streets, but they need safe places to stay while their immigration cases are being resolved.”
Cabrera gave an example of a transgender client she worked with who was placed with a lesbian couple in San Diego after release from detainment. Having support from the couple helped Cabrera’s client integrate not just into the local community but also to find support from other LGBTQ people as her case is fought.
“I think the most important thing that people can do if they can’t sponsor someone in need of housing is to get involved in their local politics, especially ahead of the next presidential election,” Cabrera said. “The people we elect really matter and have a direct impact on the lives of immigrants across the U.S.”
Learn more about becoming a sponsor through our partners at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project by clicking here. For more information about about how to support the work of organizations providing direct assistance to LGBTQ asylum seekers at the southern border, check out the work of organizations including the San Diego LGBT Community Center, United We Dream, the Transgender Law Center, RAICES and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.