Shocking revelation at briefing as we in the U.S.A. further the persecution LGBT Asylum seekers through systematic recriminalization of those seeking to escape unjust criminalization!
By Melanie Nathan, January 08, 2013.
Seventy Six countries criminalize homosexuality. Most recently we have focused on, amongst others, Russia, India, Uganda, Gambia, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Belize and Nigerian. We are not talking about equality and LGBTI rights here, but rather about a basic right to live according to one’s sexuality, in peace and privacy, with community support for those facing confusion and asking questions when they come out. These 76 countries not only deny this basic human right, but also, through criminalization, participate in the resulting trauma which includes rejection and often physical harm.
In the U.S.A., although we fail our own LGBTI with the lack of full equality, at least we do not criminalize homosexuality and though our President and State Department have condemned those who do criminalize homosexuality, we still fail potential LGBT asylees who seek our shores for refuge.
We fail them at the outset, when they need special visas to escape their unjust criminalization to come to the U.S.A. Those special considerations and much needed remedies for entry simply do not exist and no one is advocating for change, except at PCI Justice.
And we in the United States fail them further, once they reach our shores, because we do not do much more than re-criminalize the asylum seekers, the already unjustly persecuted. Indeed we re-criminalize those who have been persecuted through unjust criminalizing laws back in their home countries.
Today a briefing was held on Capitol Hill, by LGBT-FAN, the Faith Network, co-sponsored by PCI-Justice and other groups.* One of the speakers at the event included Rochelle Fortier Nwadibia, the Legal Director of PCI-Justice, (Private Courts International.) The focus of Nwadibia’s talk was the continued criminalization of LGBT asylees in the United States. And the message screams for human compassion to include the imperative call for a dramatic change in how we treat LGBT asylum seekers.
Nwadibia, a prominent immigration and international human rights attorney, renowned for litigating Mohamed v. Gonzales re: Female Genital Mutilation, reported today at the briefing as follows:
Thank you to each and everyone of you for attending this important briefing.
Our focus today on LGBT asylum highlights the increased criminalization of asylum seekers within our immigration system, and explains why we must focus on providing a true safe harbor for LGBT asylum seekers.
As Americans, we are reminded of the historical journey of many that have sought refuge in the United States for generations. We are all aware that it is THIS country that has served as the beacon of hope for many fleeing persecution abroad. Unfortunately, today our arms are not open wide for the modern day asylum seeker. Instead, we find the creeping criminalization of asylum seekers through the BED MANDATE and DETENTION, and NOT the safe harbor that we would expect.
In this process today, we detain them, subject them to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, and we force many of them to begin their “fresh start” in the United States with a criminal conviction.
The detention of asylum seekers results from the Congressional bed mandate is increasingly the door through which many asylum seekers must enter before having access to our asylum process.
In reality, we are the ones contributing to the criminalization of LGBT asylum seekers by offering a jail bed as the first place for them to lay their head.
These asylum seekers arrive at our doorstep traumatized by the fear of persecution perpetuated by family, friends, and members of their own community.
They are completely alone.
They are Fleeing family shame, societal rejection, and socially sanctioned:
* physical assault
* forced marriage
* fear of arrest and prosecution according to laws criminalizing LGBT identity, and
They are completely alone.
As an attorney, I have watched asylum seekers enter court rooms shackled to convicted criminals, while escorted from place to place by law enforcement. They are housed in isolated facilities with convicted criminals where attorneys that wish to represent them have difficulty obtaining access and law enforcement authorities seldom return calls to attorneys and the criminalization process moves forward.
These practices create structural barriers to legal access and deny immediate protection of these asylum seekers.
I have observed a judge, sitting on the bench, who did not even raise his head and look at the detainees in front of him, neither as a group, or when calling their names individually. Instead he chose to focus on reading from documents throughout the entire hearing, and in the process thereby denying their dignity and never acknowledging their humanity.
What we are witnessing is a situation where the asylum seeker finds that the experience in the United States may not be too different from the criminalization that they are fleeing.
We must do better. We must provide the social supports that facilitate a pathway to freedom.
It is for these reasons, that the efforts championed by LGBT-FAN member organizations aimed at supporting LGBT asylum seekers once they land on our soil is crucial and can not be understated.
It is important the we open not only our doors, but our hearts and minds and create a safety net for asylum seekers that enable them to thrive independently in the United States.
I am suggesting that In order to accomplish this, we:
* must remove the one year rule to allow asylum seekers the time to adjust to freedom, in order to prepare and properly advance their claims,
* must provide for the immediate availability of employment authorization so that they can support themselves while seeking this relief,
* must remove the bed mandate that leads to the detention and halt the criminalization of asylum seekers by removing them from the detention process, and
By doing so, we will restore the dignity to and respect the humanity LGBT asylum seekers as they follow their quest for a life of freedom.
Melanie Nathan, firstname.lastname@example.org
#LGBTasylHELP #LGBTASYLUM @rafinlaw @pcijustice @melanienathan1
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*Co-Sponsors: Center Global, a program of the DC Center for the LGBT Community, Daylight Consulting Group, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Integrity USA, LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, Metropolitan Community Churches, Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, PCI Justice, St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns, Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office, and Unitarian Universalist Association