New Report Reveals Special Struggles Faced by LGBT Asylum Seekers

In 1990, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals held that a person may seek asylum in the United States if they are fleeing their home country due to persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) examines how effectively lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals can access this protection in order to gain protection from persecution.

The report examines the many ways in which immigration law intersects with the lives of LGBT individuals who are seeking to reside in the United States. Its authors find that LGBT asylum seekers face a number of hurdles to gaining asylum, including:

1. Detention

When LGBT individuals are detained unnecessarily, they are hindered from pursuing their asylum requests in an effective or efficient manner. This results in a number of seekers “being deported back to unsafe conditions or even to their death,” even when their asylum petition meets all the requirements of U.S. law. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also found that LGBT individuals in detention in the U.S. may face higher rates of cruel or dehumanizing treatment – often the very treatment they are seeking asylum in order to escape.

2. Deadlines

Most immigrants arriving in the United States have one year to file for asylum. However, LGBT asylum applicants are 10 percent more likely to miss this deadline than non-LGBT applicants. The report found that continued fears about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity causes many applicants to miss this deadline.

3. Lack of financial support

Unlike resettled refugees, asylum seekers do not receive government help to pay for their basic needs while their cases are being considered. Because they are often ineligible for work authorization as well, many LGBT asylum seekers find it difficult or impossible to support themselves while their case is working its way through the court system. A substantial backlog of cases means that any one asylum seeker may wait an extensive period of time before their petition is heard.

The CAP report’s top recommendation is that legal counsel be provided to LGBT asylum seekers in order to help them avoid detention, meet relevant deadlines and move their cases more quickly through the court system. An experienced immigration lawyer can help people who are seeking asylum due to persecution for their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.