The U.S. government will sometimes grant asylum status to people who may be at risk in their home countries because they are gay or transgender. Asylum status is what we call refugee status when applied for inside of the U.S. It will allow them to remain in the U.S. indefinitely and eventually gain permanent residence status (green card) and even U.S. Citizenship.
Here are five ways you can help LGBT asylum seekers in the U.S.
1. Inform potential LGBT asylum seekers about asylum in the U.S.
Many LGBT immigrants do not apply for asylum because they do not know about the option. If you have a friend who does not have permanent residence in the U.S. but fears returning to their country because they might be harmed or killed because they are gay, bi or transgender then they might be eligible for asylum status. Help them to contact an immigration lawyer or nonprofit organization to evaluate their case. In general, one must apply for asylum within one year of entering the country so it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. There are some exceptions to the one-year rule as well which they can discuss with an attorney before filing.
2. Diversify Your Friend Group and Offer Emotional Support.
Many LGBT immigrants and potential asylum-seekers have difficulty making friends in the U.S. They might not be fluent in English, or may have spent years in the closet, unsure of who to come out to. Befriend those who are different than you. Feel free to ask questions about people’s language and cultural background, but do not pry. LGBT asylum-seekers often suffer from PTSD and may not want to talk about their past. Let them know that you are willing to listen when they are ready, or help them find culturally appropriate mental health services like the Seattle Counselling Center.
3. Volunteer or Donate with an organization that provides legal assistance to asylum seekers.
Many asylum seekers cannot afford to hire attorneys. There are a few but not nearly enough non-profit organizations that provide free legal representation to asylum seekers. Most work with individuals of all sexual orientations such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, Washington. Some organizations specialize in working with LGBT asylum seekers like the New York based non-profit Immigration Equality. Reach out to your local immigrant rights nonprofit and ask how you can donate or volunteer. In addition to financial help, non-profits can use volunteer interpreters, translators, temporary administrative or event staff. There may also be opportunities for college students or law students to intern. You can also contact the Refugee Women’s Alliance, Entre Hermanos, and the International Rescue Committe and the ACLU for volunteer opportunities. A nationwide list of nonprofit immigrant rights organizations can be found at immigrationadvocates.org.
4. Offer Housing
Housing is not provided to asylum seekers in the U.S. Asylum seekers are not eligible for work authorization until their case has been pending for six months. While many asylum seekers have family or ethnic community members who may help them find homes, LGBT asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to homelessness because they are often ostracized or fear seeking help from family or me members of their country who might share homophobic views that caused the asylum seeker to flee their country in the first place. If you have a spare bedroom reach out to a nonprofit or an immigration lawyer that works with LGBT asylum seekers to offer to host an individual. Feel free to put a time limit or charge rent.
5. Write to Your Government
Write a letter or call your member of the U.S. House of Representatives or Senator and tell them to support LGBT Refugees and Asylum seekers by allowing refugees to enter the country, increasing funding to U.S. refugee programs and opposing travel bans such as the ones Trump has been seeking to enact by executive order. The current Trump Travel Ban does not address asylum seekers inside the U.S. but will have a profound and detrimental affect on LGBT individuals outside the U.S. seeking refugee status and some of those who need to enter to seek asylum status. You can find your congressman by clicking here and your senator by clicking here.
If you have questions about LGBT asylum feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am a Seattle-based immigration attorney with experience in LGBT asylum law and I often speak on the topic.