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For Immediate Release: Combined Statement on DoJ Changes to US Asylum Procedures
Posted on January 11, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Contact:  Angela Hale, 512-289-2995 angela.hale@equalitytexas.org

Austin, Texas- January 11, 2021 

Today, Equality Texas, the largest statewide organization solely dedicated to securing full equality for LGBTQ Texans, the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), the largest statewide, trans led, trans focused organization in the state of Texas, and RAICES, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees, condemned the “Death to Asylum” rule change, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice’s radical finalized rule to U.S. asylum procedures that seeks to eliminate asylum for LGBTQ individuals seeking to escape persecution. 

The rule change will systematically dismantle key elements of the asylum process, including rewriting the standards for the credible fear interview stage, membership of a particular social group, and political opinion, redefining the threshold of harassment that qualifies as persecution and denying the experiences of LGBTQ refugees worldwide. The rule is set to go into effect on January 11, 2021. 

Statement by Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas: “What has made America great historically is our reputation across the world as a sanctuary for those who are experiencing persecution in their country of origin. People have viewed the US as a place where a new beginning is possible, a place where hope exists, where there is a chance to lead a safe and authentic life. For LGBTQ people experiencing persecution, transgender people in particular, asylum is a matter of life and death. I’m appalled at this heartless proposal that will undoubtedly put lives we should be protecting in more danger.”

There are numerous changes that impact LGBTQ individuals directly.  The new rule drastically increases the asylum seeker’s burden of proving persecution by requiring proof that government officials specifically participated in any persecution — private civilian actors do not qualify. In addition, any threats of violence to the individual must be “exigent” and “extreme,” according to the new rule, going so far as to say that “repeated threats,” “intermittent harassment” and “governmental laws that are infrequently enforced” aren’t enough to qualify as persecution. We know all too well how quickly repeated harassment and threats can escalate to violent behavior towards the LGBTQ community, and no one should have to expose themselves to violence in order to prove their persecution and attain safety. 

The rule also drastically changes the definition for persecution on account of “political opinion,” or seeking asylum because of political persecution, ignoring the fact that in over 70 countries living openly as LGBTQ is against the law, and by its very nature a political act. 

Statement by Cristian Sanchez, Staff Attorney at Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES):  “As an immigration attorney, I have represented many LGBTQ+ people fighting for asylum. The persecution they have suffered in their home country is horrific, and they make the journey here to save their life. Their stories of discrimination and violence are some of the worst I have heard in my career, especially for those who are transgender. Many of my LGBTQ+ clients have been granted asylum and are now living in relative safety in this country. But most of those who were granted would be denied under these proposed asylum regulations, which is unconscionable. Deserving LGBTQ+ applicants to asylum will be deported to their home country if these regulations go into effect, which will put them in danger of death and torture.”

Texas has always had a robust refugee population. In 2016, more refugees were resettled in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex than in any other U.S. metropolitan area, and 52% of those refugees were from countries with criminal penalties for being openly LGBTQ. In 2019, Texas was the top state in the U.S. for refugee resettlement, leading Washington, California, and New York. 

Statement by Emmett Schelling, Executive Director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT): “Transgender asylum seekers are in most cases fleeing their homes and everything they have known because the risk of staying is in many times a death sentence due to who they are. This rule change continues the pattern of recent changes in HUD, Title IX, and DHHS that rewrite existing rules and rollback protections in a targeted effort to tacitly condone individual bias and transphobia. To the community it has felt like a coordinated campaign to destabilize stable trans populations and cruelly target those of us who are impacted and marginalized the most.

Refugees are a vital part of our state, contributing to the vibrant mix of folks we call Texans. We, as Texans, have opened our doors, reiterating our values that all individuals have a right to be free from fear and persecution. The Administration’s new rule turns its back on those values and on LGBTQ people seeking safety around the world.” As this rule is challenged in court, we strongly urge the incoming Biden administration to make receding this final rule change a top priority. 

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Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. The Equality Texas Foundation works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through education, community organizing, and collaboration.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) is the largest statewide, trans led, trans focused organization in the state of Texas. TENT focuses on policy, education, and community engagement to work towards achieving equality for transgender and non binary Texans.

RAICES is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. With legal services, social programs, bond assistance, and an advocacy team focused on changing the narrative around immigration in this country, RAICES is operating on the national frontlines of the fight for immigration rights.