This week, a group of 600 advocates, including business leaders, conservatives, and evangelicals from 40 states came to Washington D.C. to lobby members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the end of this year. Eleven members of the LGBT community — some who have received asylum in the U.S., others who are currently seeking asylum, and some of whom were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — did their part.
These LGBT advocates met with key House and Senate offices to share their personal stories and help ensure that critical provisions for LGBT immigrants in the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate, such as elimination of the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications and prohibiting the use of solitary confinement solely on the basis of an immigrant’s sexual orientation or gender identity, remain in a final immigration bill.
In addition to meetings with Congressional offices, Immigration Equality, an organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers, also held two briefings for House and Senate staff. At the briefings, LGBT immigrants told stories of missing the one-year filing deadline for asylum and being held in immigration detention, suffering abuse and harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. One transgender woman recounted how she was held in solitary confinement for 13 months because of her gender identity.
Unfortunately, their stories are all too common. The Williams Institute at UCLA found that there are nearly one million adult immigrants who identify as LGBT, over a quarter of whom are undocumented and live in constant fear of being detained and deported. Though homosexuality is a crime in 78 countries, LGBT immigrants are often denied asylum or deported to hostile countries where they live constant danger.
Advocates urged attendees to support the Senate’s immigration bill and oppose the SAFE Act, a bill that passed on a party-line vote out of the House Judiciary Committee that would inevitably lead to racial profiling and criminalization of undocumented immigrants, including asylum seekers.
This week, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) joinedRep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) andRep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) to become thethird House Republican to cosponsor an immigration reform bill introduced by
House Democrats that now has 189 supporters. The bill includes important protections for LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers that are in the Senate’s bill, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the U.S., the elimination of the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications, the expanded use of alternatives to detention, and the prohibition of the use of solitary confinement based on an immigrant’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sharita Gruberg is a Policy Analyst for the LGBT Immigration Project at the Center for American Progress.