LGBT Caravan Asylum Seekers Could Have to 'Prove' Status to Get Into U.S.

LGBT asylum seekers traveling from Central American countries to the U.S. may have to "prove" their status in order to claim asylum in the U.S., said a University of California researcher.

Earlier this month, around 80 LGBT members of the more than 6,000-strong caravan of Central American asylum seekers traveling to the U.S. split with the main group after facing discrimination from fellow travelers.

The group of LGBT asylum seekers was among the first to arrive in Tijuana, the Mexican border town which sits across from San Diego.

Migrants in in Tijuana, Mexico, wait in a plaza at the El Chaparral border crossing to hear their names called to be allowed to cross the border into the U.S. to petition for asylum, on November 28. LGBT members of the caravan may face a unique set of challenges getting into the U.S. Mario Tama/Getty

But they are likely to face a "unique set of challenges" in their bid to gain entry into the U.S., University of California researcher Stefan Vogler wrote in an article for The Conversation. One challenge may be having to demonstrate that they are part of a group facing persecution in the first place.

"Historically, LGBTQ people were deemed 'psychopathic personalities' and statutorily barred from entering the country," wrote Vogler, a chancellor's postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California. "It was only 1990 when that law was finally repealed and the Board of Immigration Appeals first declared LGBTQ people eligible for asylum as members of a 'particular social group.'

"However, in order to qualify under a 'particular social group,' you must prove your membership in that group. For LGBTQ people, this means they must prove to a judge or asylum officer that they really are LGBTQ," Vogler continued.

According to Vogler, throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, courts were known to use gendered stereotypes in order to determine a person's sexuality in LGBT asylum claims.

"As one immigration judge declared [of an asylum seeker], 'Neither [his] dress nor his mannerisms, nor his style of speech [had] given any indication that he is a homosexual,'" Vogler noted.

While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines mandate that an applicant's "specific sexual practices are not relevant to the claim for asylum or refugee status," Vogler said that instead of relying on stereotypes and sex acts, "judges today generally respond positively to stories about how claimants came to realize they LGBTQ or 'different' as proof of their sexual or gender identity."

Read more: LGBT migrants leave caravan over 'discrimination,' reach California border

This means that LGBT asylum seekers will likely be judged on their abilities to tell their stories, effectively forcing them to convince those processing their asylum applications that they are part of the LGBT community.

But "in the same way that sexual and gender expressions vary across cultures–and even within cultures–identity development also varies across cultural contexts," Vogler says.

"This means that not everyone will have a neat, linear story to tell about how they came to a particular gender or sexual identity. Those who do not may find that courts are less likely to find their claims credible."

In Central American countries, LGBT people are known to face epidemic levels of violence and discrimination, according to data from Amnesty International.

In a report published in 2017, the advocacy group sounded the alarm, warning that "the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people from violence-ridden El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are at risk" in their home countries.

Amnesty International stated in its report that with authorities in the three countries failing to protect LGBT community members, residents were left with "no choice but to flee."