The Discrimination Against Asylum Seekers and Its Importance

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While headlines of illegal immigration and border debates dominate the headlines in America, the larger focus swings towards the humanitarian and legal plight of many who seek shelter in the United States. Asylum seekers, who flee their countries and apply for international protection in another, have long suffered under the policies imposed by the American government that limit the number of successful asylees. In many cases, asylum seekers who are stopped at the US border are indefinitely detained while waiting for their cases to be decided and subject to family separation despite applying for protection. Many seekers are women, people of the LGBTQ community, and children, fleeing gender violence, persecution due to sexual orientation, or domestic abuse. In most cases when an asylum seeker’s petition for protection is denied, they have no choice but to return to their countries of origin, where they are met with the hostile conditions they fled from in the first place.

It must be conceded that the system of asylum can be exploited; credible fear serves as the barrier for deportation while the asylum seeker’s case is being processed, but many can claim protection. However, in a system where one million people seek asylum each year, the vast majority of claims prove to be credible and indicative of genuine need. Despite this number though, asylum seekers face vast barriers to being granted protection. Since the Trump administration first entered office, they have denied that domestic violence survivors can gain protection under asylum law, ruling domestic violence to be a private crime despite familial and domestic abuse to be a widespread act in many communities across the world. Not only does this send a bad signal to the international community and deck the credibility of the United States with humanitarian acceptances, but it also propagates the spread of gender violence as women lose an avenue to flee their home lives.

The American laws on asylum qualifications are also entrenched in essentialist, biological notions of identity that currently discriminate against sexual and gender minorities. The US process remains insulated as asylum seekers can only qualify if they prove a social group that is immutable and fundamental to an individual’s identity is being threatened. However, this discriminates against LGBTQ applicants and women as officers rely on biological notions of sex and often refuse to acknowledge discrimination that occurs on the basis of gender and identity that transcends identity. Furthermore, judges often reduce the violence women face to interpersonal issues rather than pervasive gender inequality and discrimination. The odds are clearly set against applicants; the interpretation of their qualifications depends first on officers who determine if asylum seekers are actually at risk or have a credible fear and then on judges who maintain personal interpretations of the law the United States sets forth. Furthermore, the cultural imperialism and superiority many adjudicators maintain against “Third World applicants” belie the different perceptions of who is at risk. For example, gay and lesbian applicants who could prove abuse at the hands of legal authorities were often dismissed despite their evidence due to a cultural skepticism about their sexuality. In the same vein, applicants need to be socially visible in order to be believed, forcing applicants to fit into the stereotypes the US has about LGBTQ applicants.

So what can be done to solve this problem? The question is as contentious as any other part of immigration debate that occupies our country today. However, it is easy in the conversation about the economic threat immigrants face or the duplicity they may have in faking claims of persecution to forget the real impacts and suffering that many applicants face. Through the lens of asylum seekers, domestic violence must be a credible reason to grant asylum, as it is perpetrated against women solely because they are women. LGBTQ applicants are discriminated against on the basis of innate characteristics. Many fleeing their countries do so based on the discrimination and persecution of a legitimate social group that goes unrecognized by the United States. Recognizing this is the first step to restoring the dignity and fundamental rights to flee persecution that asylum seekers have long been deprived of in America.

Of course, the debate rages on about the larger impact of admitting immigrants of all kinds. But keeping in mind the barriers that these asylum seekers face to even gaining a fair judgement of whether or not they may gain protection means the United States must recognize more social groups and acknowledge gender and sexual orientation as a legitimate social group explicitly protected and admitted under asylum law. Only then can one part of the big problem be righted.