ICE Raids Against Asylum Seekers Are Reprehensible

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January 22, 2016
Francisco Dueñas

Lambda Legal recently joined 35 other national and local organizations representing LGBTQ people in sending a letter to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, condemning and calling for an end to home raids that began on January 2, targeting Central American and other families – primarily mothers and children fleeing extremely dangerous conditions.

We took this action because we wished to join others in protesting this harsh and wrongful policy, and because the actions, justifications and consequences have targeted LGBTQ people in similar ways. While the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) home raids targeted mothers and children, not LGBT immigrants (though these groups are obviously, not mutually exclusive), the experiences of Central American migrants fleeing extreme violence closely parallel those of LGBT immigrants who flee violence and persecution in many of the same countries to seek asylum in the United States. 

LGBT immigrants fleeing persecution from their home countries who make it to the U.S. border are locked up and placed in immigration detention while they wait for their asylum claims to be heard. This can take years because our immigration courts are understaffed and under-resourced. Many immigrants do not know that they can seek asylum, and are not informed by immigration officials who criminalize and deport immigrants swiftly without due process. Of those immigrants languishing in detention while waiting to see an immigration judge, those without lawyers (i.e., most immigrants) are six times less likely to have successful outcomes.

ICE has been criticized for using potentially illegal and unconstitutional tactics during the raids. According to the Center for American Progress, “the government failed to even provide accurate and timely notice of future court dates to unaccompanied children….This means that families can receive deportation orders in absentia simply by failing to attend a court date they were never alerted to.”

As our advocacy letter also points out, many of these families are survivors of trauma and should be considered people with disabilities. The government should provide reasonable accommodation as part of their asylum or deportation proceedings. This recommendation was originally made in a letter submitted by 241 civil rights, faith and labor organizations.

Such a strategy could also be helpful to LGBT asylum seekers, who are routinely victims of traumatic persecution. Furthermore, the letter states that as an LGBT community, we understand the importance of vital safe places to live, and these raids exacerbate the fear and trauma of LGBT immigrants who already report higher levels of violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

These raids are shameful. Much like LGBT asylum seekers, many of the affected women and children (in some cases unaccompanied children) posed no flight or security risk to our border and were complying with check-in visits and other restrictions. Intimidation, excessive force and potential legal violations mark these raids, as documented by the National Immigration Law Center. ICE’s fast round-'em-up way of treating traumatized, still vulnerable people, including LGBT asylum seekers, lacks compassion and terrorizes communities.

Instead of raids, Homeland Security should take steps to protect vulnerable people seeking refuge against terrible violence and should respond to them as refugees. Moreover, the Administration should focus on addressing the root cause of this tragic situation—violence.