The Trump administration announced last month its most significant move yet towards dismantling the U.S. asylum system. Under its new policy, called “Migration Protection Protocols,” the U.S. will begin to require people who seek asylum at the southwest border (a total of 48 legal points of entry) to wait in Mexico while the U.S. immigration courts decide on their asylum cases.
This new “catch and return” policy is especially dangerous for LGBTQ asylum seekers; it needlessly jeopardizes the lives of LGBTQ Central Americans who cannot remain in Mexico safely. It represents a monumental departure from decades of American immigration law, and reveals a country in turmoil. Since President Trump took office, he has continued to violate the legal due process of LGBTQ people fleeing for their lives, and to undermine America's long-held standing as a rare beacon of hope for the millions of LGBTQ people who currently live in dangerous countries.
Now, the U.S. is effectively closing its doors on LGBTQ Central Americans seeking safety. Instead of being allowed to wait in a LGBTQ-friendly city (such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) during the long and stressful U.S. asylum process, LGBTQ people who seek asylum at the southwest border will be forced to remain in Mexico in grave danger. We need to recognize this new policy for what it is: the Trump administration’s latest attempt to break federal and international law by preventing people fleeing persecution from successfully claiming asylum in the U.S.
No, Mr. Trump, LGBTQ asylum seekers cannot wait safely in Mexico. Not even close.
Consistently ranked as one of the most violent countries in the world, Mexico is arguably a dangerous place for anyone seeking asylum. However, for LGBTQ asylum seekers, waiting in Mexico is not just dangerous, it is life-threatening due to widespread homophobia and transphobia. In Mexico, LGBTQ people face discrimination and violence from police as well as ordinary citizens. A backlog of over 800,000 cases in the U.S. immigration courts means that LGBTQ asylum seekers who are impacted by this new policy will be forced to remain in Mexico for months or even years as their claims are processed in the U.S. — a wait time that many LGBTQ people are unlikely to survive.
LGBTQ asylum seekers in Mexico face unique obstacles and an increased risk of violence due to their LGBTQ identity. The data is clear and well-documented: LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees in Mexico continue to undergo death threats, physical abuse and verbal harassment on a daily basis. In fact, as recently publicized, the LGBTQ asylum seekers from the migrant caravan who traveled to Mexico banned together in an effort to protect themselves from anti-LGBTQ persecution inflicted by both their peer (non-LGBTQ) asylum seekers and local Mexican citizens. This on-the-ground reality continues to be conveniently omitted from all of the Trump administration’s asylum policies to-date — rendering each policy illegal and deadly. This administration has repeatedly shown a callous disregard for LGBTQ asylum seekers’ rights.
Persecuted LGBTQ people expect (and deserve) better from America.
If the Trump administration insists on enforcing its latest immigration policy, the administration must immediately grant an exemption for LGBTQ people seeking asylum at the southwest border based on their "credible fear" of waiting in Mexico while their asylum cases are adjudicated in the U.S. The Trump administration, alongside the rest of America, remains legally and morally obligated to allow LGBTQ asylum seekers to stay in the U.S. during the lengthy asylum process.
Anything less is both illegal and a death sentence for LGBTQ Central Americans.
KATIE SGARRO is co-founder and president of AsylumConnect, a tech nonprofit creating the first online resource catalog for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the United States.