The Crisis at the Border is an LGBTQ Issue. Here's Why.

by HRC Staff

More than 120 LGBTQ asylum seekers are currently stuck in Tijuana, with the number sure to grow in the coming weeks as the arrival of a larger group of people fleeing violence and danger draws closer.

Post submitted by former HRC Digital Media Manager Helen Parshall

The Trump-Pence administration’s cruel immigration policies are harming LGBTQ and other asylum seekers who are fleeing violence in Central America by leaving them stranded on the U.S.-Mexico border.

More than 120 LGBTQ asylum seekers are currently stuck in Tijuana, with the number sure to grow in the coming weeks as the arrival of a larger group of people fleeing violence and danger draws closer, according to the San Diego LGBT Community Center and RAICES, an organization that provide vital legal support to immigrants.

"We've been working with partners in Tijuana to provide legal services, shelter, security, and more for dozens of LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers stuck waiting weeks for their cases to be heard,” said Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES. “The Trump administration is responsible for this delay, a delay that harms all immigrants but is particularly perilous for LGBTQ+ folks, who face dangers from police and ordinary citizens in Mexico and must be allowed safe entry into the United States."

Violence associated with gangs and drug trafficking has made Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala some of the world’s most violent countries, with few laws protecting people from violence or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates have said that being LGBTQ substantially increases vulnerability to violence, and transgender individuals face the highest risk.

“People migrate (to the U.S.) because they will die and because they are hungry and because they are in need,” said Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, an El Salvadoran advocacy group, in a July interview with the Washington Blade.

Earlier this month, many LGBTQ asylum seekers who were facing discrimination and harassment on their journey, split off from the main group of asylum seekers, reaching the U.S. border in Mexico in mid-November.

“We were discriminated against, even in the caravan. People wouldn’t let us into trucks, they made us get in the back of the line for showers, they would call us ugly names,” said Erick Dubon, in a Washington Post article. Dubon is traveling with his boyfriend, Pedro Nehemias, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

A 2016 study by UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, found through its interviews that nearly 90 percent of LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees reported suffering sexual and gender-based violence in their home countries in Central America. According to reports from the agency, the number of total registered asylum seekers and refugees from the region has grown exponentially -- up 58 percent in 2017 from the previous year.

“The more authorities in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA fail to take action to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the Americas, the more blood they will have on their hands,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in a 2017 report documenting experiences of LGBTQ people fleeing the region.

Earlier this year, international outrage spread after the brutal death of transgender asylum seeker Roxana Hernández, who passed away while in ICE custody after fleeing violence and discrimination in Honduras. An autopsy report made public earlier this week strongly indicated Hernández was beaten in custody and denied water and critical medical treatment before her death, but ICE has refused to release a required report on the circumstances of her death for more than 180 days, in direct contravention of a Congressional requirement.

According to information provided by ICE in response to a request by Rep. Kathleen Rice, 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. ICE also reported to Representative Rice that LGBTQ people accounted for only .14 percent of the people detained by ICE in 2017, but made up 12 percent of reported sexual assault and abuse cases.

The multitude of stories emerging from the waves of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing Central America are heartbreaking and infuriating, and the cruelty they are met with at the hands of the Trump-Pence administration is unacceptable.

As the situation continues to evolve, find out more about how to support the work of organizations providing direct assistance to the LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, including the San Diego LGBT Community Center, RAICES and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.