In his 'international LGBT rights Tuesday' policy announcement President Obama pledged support for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. In a memorandum , he directed agencies, including Homeland Security, to "protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers".
The State Department laid out work it is doing on plans on supporting LGBT refugees, in conjunction with UNHCR and NGOs, and even pledged to directly help with relocation if activists are under dire threat.
In the US, a recent announcement on how immigration cases will be prioritised for decision to focus on those involving criminals has draw LGBT criticism because it does not offer explicit protection for lesbian and gay bi-national couples. However the new policy has drawn little attention for its impact on LGBT asylum seekers, those the President said Tuesday that his administration will protect.
Asylum lawyer Jason Dzubow points out that the new shifting of priorities on decision making has put asylum seekers at the bottom of the pile and describes the impact as "devastating".
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”, the Immigration Courts) is re-arranging its dockets to expedite priority cases in a pilot program running in Baltimore and Denver. Dzubow has already seen the impact in one case, of an Eritrean almost certain to receive sanctuary, re-scheduled from this December to May 2014.
According to EOIR, the goal of the Pilot Program is “to ensure that [limited] resources are focused on the Administration’s highest immigration enforcement priorities.”
"Unfortunately, in this case, the Administration’s “enforcement priorities” (i.e., removal of aliens) comes at the expense of our country’s humanitarian obligations," says Dzubow.The stress of delayed decisions is well-documented around the world. Homeland Security could adopt a policy, Dzubow says, of starting the 'Asylum Clock' if decisions are delayed, which would at least allow asylum seekers to work. It should also offer at least some space in the courts for decision making for asylum seekers within a reasonable time frame for those like his Eritrean client.
"Delaying asylum hearings for 2+ years is devastating to many asylum seekers."
The Obama administration has also been accused of doing nothing to protect detained LGBT asylum seekers in the US, from either maltreatment by those running detention centers or sexual violence, even rape. Here, 'protection' from such threats can often mean being held for long periods in solitary confinement - recognised as a form of torture.
There are also ongoing concerns about how LGBT asylum cases are treated in the immigration courts, with vastly differing approaches in different court systems across the US with many cases showing either a too high 'bar' for asylum seekers to reach or even homophobic treatment.
Said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR):
"This memorandum is a step in the right direction. But we urge the Obama administration to take a close look at the treatment of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers in the US and work to reform our nation’s broken asylum and immigration detention systems, especially for the most vulnerable. We cannot expect to credibly protect the human rights of LGBT persons abroad when we cannot do so at home."Dzubow says that "it might be futile to argue that we should not be prioritizing removals over protecting people fleeing persecution." However given Obama's pledge on LGBT asylum seekers the administration appears to have set up a clear conflict of priorities with how these refugees are actually treated by them.