Monday, 7 February 2011

New York Times gay asylum article misled, say advocates

The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

Two leading NGOs which support LGBT Asylum Seekers in the United States have written to the New York Times protesting the impression left by a widely circulated article that heterosexual people are commonly claiming to be gay in order to win asylum in America.

The article Gays Seeking Asylum in U.S. Encounter a New Hurdle, said that "desperation [has] led some straight immigrants to feign being gay in hopes of winning asylum."

It gives an example of one lawyer whose client applied for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation, then showed up a few weeks later with his wife, and the 2009 case of Steven and Helena Mahoney of Kent, Wash.who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a consulting business in which, among other things, they coached straight people on how to file gay asylum claims.

Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, and Lori Adams, staff attorney of the Refugee Protection Program, Human Rights First, told the New York Times:
"While we appreciate your coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers, the article is not consistent with our experience in several ways."

"Each year, Immigration Equality and Human Rights First provide legal representation to hundreds of asylum seekers, and our legal team and pro bono lawyers win safe haven for most of these individuals."

"In our experience, however, it is exceedingly rare for asylum seekers — whose families and home countries often stigmatize gay and transgender people — to present themselves falsely as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to immigration officials. We have not seen an emerging trend of straight individuals claiming to be gay for immigration purposes."

"Indeed, asylum seekers undergo rigorous evaluation by immigration officials to ensure that their claims are authentic. Nor have we seen a “new hurdle” for L.G.B.T. asylum seekers having to prove that they are “socially visible.” While there have been a few cases where adjudicators have demonstrated a bias in L.G.B.T. cases, we have found that most United States officials do their jobs, and verify claims made in asylum applications while respecting an individual’s identity as an L.G.B.T. person."

"Until L.G.B.T. rights are respected around the world, asylum remains a lifeline for those fleeing persecution."

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