LGBT groups push Senate Judiciary Committee to improve immigration bill’s detention standards & asylum provisions

The Task Force and other groups responded today to amendments to the Title III provisions of the immigration bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee is debating this week and Monday.

The statement below can be attributed to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Lambda Legal and Equality Federation.

Immigration reform is a critical issue for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. That’s why we are fighting hard to support amendments that will strengthen the immigration bill and oppose amendments that will create additional barriers and hardships for all immigrants.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is debating amendments to the proposed immigration reform legislation that will determine the asylum process, detention standards, E-Verify and due process for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. These aspects of our current immigration policies have created barriers and extreme hardships for all immigrants, including the 267,000 immigrants who are also LGBT.

The proposed legislation goes a long way to improve detention standards for all immigrants, increasing oversight of detention facilities and expanding the use of secure alternatives to detention. We must keep these provisions strong to end the brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement to which millions of immigrants have been subjected. Vulnerable populations, like LGBT people, often experience higher rates of discrimination, mistreatment, and abuse from other detainees, facility staff and officials.

This is especially true for transgender detainees, who are at extremely high risk of abuse. Bamby Salcedo, a transgender woman, was detained by immigration authorities, sexually assaulted and denied adequate access to HIV medication and hormone treatment. No one deserves to suffer the abuse, mistreatment or dehumanization that Bamby faced.

The LGBT community stands firmly against amendments that would restrict the use of secure alternatives to detention, increase mandatory detention without requiring individualized determinations and set bond rates for immigrants in detention at an inaccessibly high rate.

We strongly support provisions that streamline the asylum process, making family unification easier and eliminating the current requirement that people who suffered persecution in their home countries must file for asylum within one year of entering the United States. LGBT asylum seekers often miss the one-year deadline because they either do not know they can seek asylum for sexual orientation or gender-based persecution, or because they do not feel safe disclosing their LGBT status to U.S. government officials. Michel Mendy is a gay immigrant from Senegal, where it is illegal to be LGBT. If he returns to the country, he could face arrest or even violence.

Michel is in detention, facing imminent removal. Under current law, he could qualify for asylum, but the immigration system has instead relegated him to legal limbo. We must fix our immigration policies to make it easier to help people like Michel.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will also debate amendments about E-Verify, the system that allows employers to check whether an employee is undocumented. Verification methods must respect the safety and privacy of all immigrants, including transgender immigrants, and provide mechanisms to monitor the accuracy of this system rather than risk requiring employers to use a faulty program. Provisions that, for example, require transgender immigrants to disclose biographical information that then ‘outs’ them as transgender to employers and puts them at risk of discrimination or harassment cannot be included in the legislation. The LGBT community strongly believes that Congress must not permit the use of E-verify as a tool to intimidate existing employees by allowing employers to use the system selectively against employees who have already been hired. The risk of undermining workers’ rights through the use of this system is simply too great.

At all costs, we must retain our nation’s commitment to due process. Government statistics show that only 17 percent of people detained on charges of deportation receive the benefit of counsel. Most don’t understand the charges against them or the ways to fight them. Often, these immigrants are separated from their families and their communities and placed in detention centers far from their homes. This is especially harmful for LGBT immigrants, as studies have shown that they often receive harsher punishments than their non-LGBT peers. This goes against our most fundamental principles of justice and fairness.

Above all, everyone who is detained by immigration enforcement deserves the right to legal counsel.

Immigration reform should not impose excessive criminal punishment for the simple act of migrating to seek a better life.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee debates these critical amendments, we urge them to consider the amendments that will protect immigrants, treat them with dignity and give them a chance to pursue their dreams.