Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin are calling on the Trump administration to protect transgender asylum seekers.
In a Thursday letter, Warren and Baldwin call on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “immediately reverse policies” that harm transgender migrants seeking refuge in the United States “and take swift action to protect [their] health and safety.”
“While in detention, transgender migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse,” they claim in a message addressed to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence and Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan. “The United States should protect individuals fleeing persecution and targeted violence, including persecution based on gender identity or expression — not subject them to further harm.”
The Senators further call attention to recent reports of “abuse and neglect of trans gender migrants and asylum seekers at the border and in U.S. custody” following the implementation of what’s known colloquially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Those guidelines, implemented in January, bar asylum seekers from enjoying shelter in the U.S. while their claims are processed.
According to Warren and Baldwin, this requirement increases “the risks faced by transgender asylum seekers by placing their health and safety at risk while they wait — potentially for years — for their asylum claims to be processed.”
As Out previously reported, transgender migrants are often forced to wait in countries that are extremely unsafe for LGBTQ+ individuals. Camila Díaz Córdova, one of the LGBTQ+ migrants who joined a widely publicized caravan from Central America to the U.S. last year, was murdered after she was sent back to El Salvador. According to representatives with the trans advocacy group Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans (ASPIDH), she petitioned for asylum during her brief stay in the country.
Although DHS claims “individuals from vulnerable populations” may be exempted from the policy to avoid such scenarios, these waivers appear to be rarely granted. In one case cited by Warren and Baldwin, a transgender woman's “finger was cut off by a cartel” while her application was intentionally delayed.
“In addition to the harmful Remain in Mexico policy, since at least 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has used ‘metering’ at ports of entry to reduce the number of asylum seekers entering the United States,” they claim.
Throughout the process, transgender migrants face violence at nearly every turn. According to Amnesty International, two-thirds of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras “reported suffering sexual and gender-based violence in Mexico after crossing the border at blind spots.” In addition, the Center for American Progress claims that LGBTQ+ people are “97 times more likely to be sexually victimized” than other detainees at ICE facilities.
Warren and Baldwin claim the ongoing crisis is in violation of “the United States’ moral and legal obligations to transgender asylum seekers.”
“We call on DHS to end policies and practices that harm transgender migrants… to address the atrocious and dangerous conditions that these vulnerable individuals face at the border and in U.S. immigration detention, and to reinstate and expand successful community-based alternatives to detention,” the Senators wrote. “We also call for DHS to use its discretion to release members of vulnerable populations, including transgender detainees.”
Warren and Baldwin requested a meeting with ICE and DHS “to update our offices on your efforts to address the harm to transgender migrants” prior to October 30.
The letter was sent just days after Warren, one of nearly two dozen candidates for president, released a comprehensive LGBTQ+ agenda that promised to “affirm protections for gender identity and sexual orientation-based asylum claims and ensure that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are not unnecessarily detained” if elected to the White House in 2020.
Her agenda also calls to increase the number of asylum seekers accepted by the U.S. to 125,000 during her first year in office and 175,000 annually during subsequent terms and to significantly reduce the number of migrants placed in immigrant detention.
Baldwin, meanwhile, is the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to the U.S. Senate and the first to be seated in Congress. She is currently serving her second Senate term.