WASHINGTON, DC – Immigration Equality, a national legal aid and advocacy organization, hailed today’s release of a newly-created training module, “Guidance for Adjudicating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugee and Asylum Claims” by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The guidance, which follows two years of coordination between USCIS and Immigration Equality, instructs asylum officers on substantive aspects of the law and highlights the unique difficulties that LGBTI claimants may experience in articulating their claims for asylum.
“We are thrilled that USCIS has taken this important step to better protect LGBTI asylum seekers,” said Victoria Neilson, the organization’s legal director. “This guidance will give officers the tools they need to gather the necessary evidence for validating an asylum claim, while respecting the often sensitive issues that potential asylees must navigate based on their past persecution. Immigration Equality is proud to have been a partner in making this guidance a reality.”
Among the highlights of the Guidance released today are:
• Helpful definitions, and appropriately sensitive questions, for officers to use, including specific instructions about questions to avoid, such as those related to specific sexual practices;
• LGBTI-specific examples of harm that may constitute persecution, including: laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity in an applicant’s home country; forced medical or psychiatric treatment intended to “cure” an applicant’s sexual orientation; forced marriage to an opposite-gender spouse; severe economic harm; and beatings or other physical abuse;
• Instructions for analyzing complex issues, for example, that a former opposite-gender marriage does not mean an applicant is not lesbian or gay; that LGBTI applicants are not required to meet pre-conceived stereotypes or “look gay;” and that cultural norms within the LGBTI community in an applicant’s home country may differ from those in the U.S.; and
• A non-exhaustive list of possible one-year filing deadline exceptions (which make it difficult to pursue asylum after one year of presence in the United States), including: recently “coming out” as LGBTI; recent steps to transition from birth gender to corrected gender; a recent HIV diagnosis; post-traumatic stress disorder; or severe family opposition to an applicant’s identity.
The Guidance’s Introduction acknowledges that “Interviews with LGBTI or HIV-positive refugee and asylum applicants require the individual ‘to discuss some of the most sensitive and private aspects of human identity and behavior’ – sexual orientation, gender identity and life-threatening illness.”
“Advocates and attorneys now have a government manual to reference when bringing asylum and refugee claims on behalf of LGBTI applicants,” Neilson added. “The Guidance released today puts LGBTI claims on an equal footing with other types of asylum claims that already have similar guidance. Immigration Equality has provided trainings to asylum officers from around the country on these issues, and won asylum cases, with pro bono partners, for LGBTI individuals from around the world. Today’s Guidance, will be a welcome tool for officers, attorneys and applicants who must work together to ensure our country remains a safe haven for those escaping often unspeakable persecution abroad.”
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