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We Must Fight Trump's Asylum Attacks With Everything We Have

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Immigration is a LGBTQ issue. We must vigorously condemn any attempt to restrict persecuted LGBTQ peoples’ right to claim asylum in the U.S. As president of a nonprofit aiding LGBTQ asylum seekers, every day, I am reminded of the life-or-death significance of keeping America’s asylum system intact.

A gay man living a “double life” in the Middle East, yearning to move to the U.S. to finally live freely. A member of the LGBTQ community in South Asia who after facing threats from family members, hopes to live in the U.S. where LGBTQ people “are acceptable.” A young person in East Africa who wishes for freedom as they watch their rights dissolve due to their LGBTQ identity. A gay man in Egypt who fears imprisonment and violence if he does not escape soon. A group of  LGBTQ people trapped in Central Asia who watch as gay men, women and transgender people are routinely killed and dismembered around them. A young gay man in North Africa desperate to ask the U.S. for help.

These are not the stories of "[c]riminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”

These are not “illegal aliens” with “meritless [asylum] claims.”

This is not “an invasion.”

These are the words of persecuted LGBTQ people fighting for their lives, who expect and deserve better from the U.S.

Under both domestic and international human rights law, people fleeing persecution in their home countries have the legal right to seek asylum once they are physically present in the U.S. Specifically, the Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that anyone who arrives in the U.S. -- regardless of if they are at a designated port of arrival -- may apply for asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution.

Yet, despite the law, the Trump administration continues to push forward with its agenda to dismantle the U.S. asylum system. On Thursday, President Trump announced a new rule granting the president new authority to deny asylum to any migrant who crosses the border illegally. As I wrote in a July op-ed for The Advocate, this policy will have catastrophic consequences for LGBTQ asylum seekers. We need to fight this.

The administration contends that all asylum seekers are able to present themselves at a port of entry at the border, and those who do so, will avoid criminal prosecution. However, the reality is much more complicated. As reported by Vox in June, under this hostile administration, even migrants seeking asylum the “right way” (at a port of entry) are being illegally blocked from entering the country by border agents.

Consequently, there is a heavy backlog of asylum seekers at the border, causing a lengthy delay in processing asylum claims and forcing desperate migrants to cross the border illegally. Method of entry should not dictate the perceived legitimacy of asylum seekers’ persecution claims.

Asylum is not a “loophole.” It is a human right; one of the few hopes for persecuted LGBTQ people seeking safety, freedom and happiness. Instead of tightening the U.S. asylum system, we should be expanding our system to welcome more persecuted LGBTQ people. The estimated $110 million this administration is using to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to "defend" against the migrant caravan would be much better spent on hiring more asylum officers to expedite the processing of asylum claims.

Our government should be striving to solidify America's position as a rare beacon of hope for LGBTQ and other persecuted people. The need for asylum in the U.S. remains urgent; ultimately, we have to choose between granting someone safety or deporting them to their death.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of migrants do not “abuse the system” or “fabricate their need for asylum.” In fact, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 77 percent of asylum claims from October to December 2017 were deemed legitimate.

“I am planning to move to the U.S. to live like a normal human being without fear of persecution.”

Every person is entitled to live without fear of persecution. Our nation’s response to persecuted people seeking refuge will not only determine individual asylum seekers’ fates, it will also determine our own humanity.

KATIE SGARRO is co-founder and president of AsylumConnect, a tech nonprofit creating the first online resource catalog for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S.

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