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Responding to grassroots pressure from advocates, and mounting criticismfrom congressional leaders such as Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unveiled an 18-page memorandum for the care of transgender immigrants in detention this week.
While these guidelines are a step in the right direction and long overdue, it’s still not enough and here’s why:
1. Detention of vulnerable immigrants is inherently inhumane: The new guidance does nothing to move us away from the prolonged detention of transgender individuals, the vast majority of whom are asylum seekers who have already faced persecution in their home countries, only to be subjected to further pain and suffering at the hands of ICE. Detaining asylum seekers is inhumane, re-traumatizes some of the most vulnerable immigrants and it is contrary to our laws when detention is used as a form of deterrence to dissuade people from coming to the United States. Advocates have repeatedly called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to release such detainees once they have proven that their fear of persecution is credible. Officials should act to end the practice of detaining such individuals, as there is no mending it.
2. The new guidance provides inadequate care and housing options: The guidance continues to allow practices that have been denounced as inhumane, such as administrative segregation, ‘protective custody’ and isolated pods for transgender detainees. ICE detains 75 transgender immigrants on average, which is less than one percent of the detainee population, but over 20 percent of sexual assault cases in immigrant detention involve a transgender survivor. Alternative housing practices havefailed to protect transgender immigrants in detention from sexual assault and physical abuse in the past, and should not be used when releasing such detainees on bond or parole is a much more humane and cheaper alternative.
3. No guidelines for the treatment of vulnerable immigrants such as lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers: Many individuals seeking asylum in the United States are detained upon arriving at a port of entry. Many of them, including lesbians, gays and bisexuals, have suffered severe persecution in their home countries. A recent Center for American Progress report shows that ICE routinely detains LGBT immigrants who it knows are at great risk and should not be behind bars. A disproportionate number of undocumented LGBT individuals are Asian American. The new guidelines do nothing to recognize that these individuals, who may have suffered sexual assault and torture in their home countries, remain vulnerable in immigrant detention and should be released.
4. No guidelines for dealing with sexual assault and abuse in detention:Transgender immigrants in ICE custody face extremely harsh conditions such as alarming rates of sexual assault, physical abuse and harassment. While housing them according to their gender identity may reduce some of the violence transgender detainees face, the guidelines provide no mechanism for reporting ongoing violence. Forty percent of sexual assault cases in detention are unreported, and the guidelines contain no mention of how transgender immigrants can report assault, or any measures to protect transgender immigrants from such assault.
5. No enforcement mechanism — The ICE ERO working group that crafted this guidance worked hard to meet with transgender detainees and try to ascertain best practices for the detention of transgender individuals in custody. However, without a grievance mechanism, the guidance may be tough to enforce at all facilities.
We strongly urge the ICE ERO working group to consider alternatives to detention for LGBT and other vulnerable immigrants in detention.
I recently joined the board of directors at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. My growing concern for the lack of philanthropic efforts to address the needs of queer people of color was the prime impetus behind this decision.
I can proudly say that I am drawn to Astraea because as a public foundation, Astraea helps to fund the grassroots work of organizations such as Black Lives Matter and many queer POC groups, who are at the forefront of movement-building and social change in the United States. I am also thrilled at the opportunity to be part of a foundation that is defining lesbian feminism in the most inclusive terms, and advancing global LGBT human rights without advancing colonialism.
I am truly glad to have added it as an organization that goes in my yearly giving portfolio, and hope that many more of my friends and followers can do the same. As a public foundation with a 4/4 Charity Navigator rating, you’ll get the maximum bang for your buck.
Check out our work and let me know if you’ve any questions about the organization!
Full text: “That awkward moment when you run away from your home country due to discrimination for being queer…Only to be locked up in the land of the free with a lot of machista, and sexist, homophobic, transphobic ICE officers.” – Alejandro Aldana
Yesterday, I received this bittersweet postcard from my dear friend, Alex Aldana, who is currently detained at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego.
Alex lived with his family in California for ten years, where he graduated from high school and worked hard to make his community a better place. He left the U.S. to go back to Mexico five months ago to care for his sick grandmother.
Over these past few months, Alex discovered how crime and corruption made life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico. In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now, Alex wants to return to California, where his mother and sibling reside so that he can continue to take care of them, and lead a life that does not entail the amount of violence he would face if he remained in Mexico.
Even with the heightened standard for credible fear instituted by the new Lafferty memo in light of the numerous claims for asylum from Mexico and Central America, Alex has already passed his credible fear interview. This means that according to Immigration and Customs officials, Alex has established a clear and convincing chance of winning asylum before an Immigration Judge based on his fear of persecution in Mexico. According to ICE guidelines, Alex should be released from detention to pursue his asylum case as he is neither a threat nor a flight risk. However, he has been detained at Otay for more than a month for no real reason, and subjected to abuse inside the facility.
Dedh Ishqiya, the sequel to Ishqiya, is brilliant for its subtlety and in the way that viewers have been left to wonder in amazement about the relationship between Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi, the two leading ladies in the movie.
Here is the ultimate movie spoiler: Yes, indeed. Madhuri and Huma are supposed to be together in the movie, as in lesbians or at least, bisexual.
Lesbian or gay themed movies are not mainstream in Indian or even American cinema, but Dedh Ishqiya goes where few movies have gone before. This subtle way of exposing the audience to lesbianism is perfect because it does not play on stereotypes to reduce women to caricatures (Girlfriend), does not treat queerness like a bad joke (Dostana), while engaging a mainstream audience lost to brilliant but art-house gay Bollywood movies such as Fire or Onir‘s I Am.
What makes the movie a success? Well, read on.
1. Recruit an icon of Indian cinema for the lead role.
Madhuri Dixit is simply stunning in her lead role as Begum Para. There is no doubt that the movie was made with her in mind, as she shines in scene after scene with eloquence and mastery, delivering a magnum opus performance. In an industry where female stars have an expiry date of 30, her resilience and star power in her late forties makes her a true legend of Indian cinema.
2. Master the Craft of Subtlety
When Fire, a movie that explored lesbian relationships, hit the cinemas, Indian audiences protested by burning effigies, shutting down cinemas. Faced with that atrocity and the recent Section 377 decision that criminalizes sodomy in India, subversion is a great tool to drive home a point. The relationship is portrayed through playful talk and kept in the shadows from the audience. By not placing an emphasis on the actual sexual act of the two women, the film forces the viewers to humanize the lead characters.
When Naseerudin Shah’s character states “lihaaf mang le” towards the end of the movie, this is a reference to Lihaaf, a short story written by Ismat Chughtai, an independence era writer, on sexual repression, women’s liberation and homosexuality. In fact, with a similar plot line of a closeted Nawab and a repressed Begum, Dedh Ishqiya can be read as a movie adaptation of Lihaaf. The rest of the story is merely a camouflage for this revelation, cleverly made for the audience to consume homosexuality without knowing it.
And it worked. No one is burning down cinemas and taking out effigies of the actors. Rather, the audience is reveling in this masterpiece.
Why are you still reading? You should go watch Dedh Ishqiya now.
First India, and now Nigeria.
Albeit, the situation in Nigeria is far worse.
Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a draconian anti-gay bill. Same sex relationships were already illegal in Nigeria but under the new law, anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or partnership may be jailed for up to 14 years. The new law also bans people who register, operate or participate in gay clubs, societies or organizations, or who publicly show that they are in a same-sex relationship.
In less than a week, dozens of people have been rounded up, arrested, and questioned under the new anti-gay law. 11 Muslim men in Nigeria also face a possible death sentence. More disturbing reports are trickling out. Amnesty International, and many other countries have called for the government to halt the homophobic witch-hunt. Some are also exploring withholding foreign aid to Nigeria.
Withholding aid is not particularly helpful in such a situation. Nigeria’s LGBT community needs all the help it can get in order to work to change attitudes or escape the situation in their home country, if that is what they want to do.
There are reports of some people escaping persecution by obtaining false documents or visas to travel to the U.S. or another country (though they must reveal their true identity and apply for asylum at the port of entry), but it is unclear who and how this underground railroad is organized. Also, I am not sure if asylum seekers who make it to the U.S. only to be locked up in detention for months, sometimes years, as arriving aliens, are better off here or there. It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps they are better off finding another country.
While the law spells terror for Nigerians, it is a blessing in disguise for many LGBT Nigerians already in the U.S., who can now seek asylum, withholding, or reopen their failed asylum claims. If you have gay friends and family members from Nigeria, do let them know to consult an immigration attorney for help in seeking asylum from Nigeria.
Please note: Nothing in this post denotes legal advice or is offered in substitution of advice from a lawyer. Success is not guaranteed in every case, and results often vary.