Trump policies devastating to women and LGBTQ deportees
The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies are having particularly devastating consequences for women and LGBTQ deportees, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress, “Women and LGBTQ Deportees Face Compounded Dangers Upon Return.”
“Many [women and LGBTQ immigrants] are being returned to Latin American countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala that are rife with dangers — including gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and gang violence — without stable enough institutions to protect them,” states the report. “By turning away or returning vulnerable people to countries in which they are at disproportionate risk of sexual assault, torture, and murder, the Trump administration is not only failing to fulfill its legal obligations; it is also denying women and LGBTQ immigrants basic human rights.”
The administration’s anti-immigrant measures include attempts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as well as changing asylum law and policy in order to make it almost impossible for asylum seekers to establish claims on the grounds of fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence. The administration is also terminating Temporary Protected Status for nationals from several countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, which, along with Guatemala, make up the so-called Northern Triangle.
“The Northern Triangle is dangerous for everyone, but women are at particular risk of facing gender-based violence perpetrated by gangs or their partners,” said Silva Mathema, senior policy analyst for immigration at the Center for American Progress. For example, “El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world among countries not in war. Gender-based violence is generally an underreported crime. And even when reported, there are low rates of convictions and not a lot of protections for victims in the Northern Triangle countries. Whatever happens in the region impacts the United States, whether we like it or not. We are connected through our economies, geographically, and by families.”
Many women and LGBTQ asylum-seekers lack basic rights in their countries of origin. “In many cultures, women are not empowered to make decisions about their own lives,” said Jackie Yodashkin, public affairs director of Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ immigrant rights advocacy organization. “In some cases, women cannot travel without the permission of a father or a husband. This makes it very difficult for women to flee in search of safety in the first place. It is a crime or fundamentally unsafe to be LGBTQ in more than 80 countries. In some of those countries, the punishment is death. Even those countries without a government-sanctioned death penalty for being LGBTQ, we see all too often that LGBTQ people are beaten, raped, and killed. Outside the U.S., people living with HIV are often denied life-saving medications. In Central America and Mexico, we hear time and time again from transgender women who find that it is simply not safe to live openly. That is why it is so important that people have the opportunity to seek asylum, and to have access to due process. By dismantling the asylum system and forcing judges to hear hundreds of cases a year, the attorney general and Trump administration are effectively sending people — many of whom are eligible for asylum in the U.S. — to their deaths.”
Advocates are also concerned about the ramifications of limiting the number of refugees entering the U.S. “When there are no options for potential refugees to seek protection from their own home because the U.S. has terminated programs, it means that individuals have to find other ways to seek protection, including turning to smugglers and more dangerous routes,” said Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate for Mexico, border and migration issues of the Latin America Working Group, a U.S.-based human rights organization. “The U.S. was one of the largest refugee receiving countries. Limitations on refugee reception to the U.S. will have a devastating impact on refugees from all over, including those from Central America and Venezuela, where there are ongoing refugee crises, and will mean refugees will need to turn elsewhere for protection.”
Additionally, many countries lack institutional capacity to adequately reintegrate and protect returnees, particularly women and LGBTQ people. “Returnees face high stigma from their own communities upon return, especially women, and [especially] if they were raped or became pregnant on the way,” said Burgi-Palomino. “Often deportees face a life without rights and dignity upon return. Many end up living a life in hiding because the danger they fled from originally still exists. For some the risk is so great to return to their community that they turn right back around and will migrate again. Women and LGBTQ deportees face higher risks upon being forced to return to their countries because they were already likely in some state of extreme danger that was the original reason for their fleeing.”
Even when migrants are able to enter the U.S., those who are undocumented live under the constant threat of deportation and are unable to have a basic quality of life. “When undocumented immigrants in the U.S. don't feel safe picking up children from school, seeking services, reporting a crime, the ripple effect is felt throughout the entire community,” said Mathema. “It doesn't help anyone if entire communities are living in fear of deportation.”
Undocumented transgender immigrants in the U.S. are living under particularly precarious conditions. “While the current immigration system fails all immigrants to the U.S., transgender immigrants are among the most vulnerable,” said Mateo De La Torre, racial and economic justice policy advocate at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). “Many transgender immigrants arriving in the United States are fleeing systemic violence and persecution in their countries of origin, including sexual violence and being targeted by criminal gangs or authorities. Transgender people who are undocumented are often said to live in ‘dual shadows’: They must not only avoid prejudice because of their gender identity, but also navigate the country’s labyrinthine immigration system.”
According to NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one in four transgender people who were undocumented had been physically assaulted in the past year, and one in two have been homeless. A majority live without health insurance, and they are more than ten times as likely as other transgender people in the U.S. to be diagnosed with HIV. “They face the societal pressures of being trans, of being a person of color, and of living in a country where they have no benefits of citizenship,” said De La Torre.
Rather than work to stabilize countries in the region and provide protections for those seeking asylum with credible claims, the Trump administration has taken actions that will only make things worse for all immigrants. “The Trump administration consistently demonizes and dehumanizes immigrants and intentionally works to instill a sense of fear among immigrant communities,” said Yodashkin. “However, the truth is that zero tolerance doesn’t work as a deterrent. The statistics bear that out, but we also know it intuitively. If you were forced to choose between certain death and the possibility, however slim, of safety in the United States, what would you choose?”
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