One thing you can say about the U.S. of A.: We are a country founded on the concept of freedom. Our Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, comes complete with specific amendments to ensure our personal freedom. We have the right to equal justice, the right to practice whatever religion we choose, the right to an education, and the right to express ourselves and our ideals without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who are not provided with these same opportunities. They cannot live openly and safely in their native countries. For this reason, we see a large number of foreigners applying for refugee status or seeking asylum in the United States. The types of cases are a matter of life and death.
Refugees are people who have to leave their native country due to persecution, war, or violence. Many refugees have experienced, or rightfully fear, persecution based on race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, political opinion, or being part of an oppressed social group. Throughout history, the League of Nations has designated groups of people to be defined by the term “refugee”. People fleeing the Cold War or Nazi Germany would fall into this category, as would victims of genocide. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and assistance to refugees, and aids in their resettlement or return to a country. Refugee eligibility laws vary from country to country.
Until a request for sanctuary has been granted, the individual is labeled an asylum seeker or asylee. Asylees are already residing in the countries within which they seek sanctuary, and have to petition for the right to be recognized as a refugee. Extensive evidence of persecution, or danger of persecution, must be provided. If a petitioner does not make a strong enough case and is denied asylum, they can be sent back to their home country. Being granted asylum provides the petitioner with legal protection and support from the UNHCR at the request of the country providing asylum.
With the passing of Marriage Equality in the United States, I expect to see an influx of LGBT asylum seekers. The U.S. still has a long way to go before we are all living equally, but for the time being, “legal equality” for the LGBT population is enough to cause many foreigners to seek sanctuary here. Identifying as LGBT does not automatically establish eligibility for asylum; there must be significant proof that LGBT individuals in the country of origin face persecution and extreme hardship. Across the globe, LGBT people are being oppressed, harassed, and killed for being who they are. I have worked with LGBT asylum clients from Honduras, India, Montenegro, Russia, and Pakistan. It is heartbreaking to hear stories about why certain people cannot live freely in their home countries, to hear what they have seen and gone through themselves. Refugee visas and asylum truly save lives.