This week the New York Daily News reported two separate stories on our asylum work with LGBT clients. An interview with our client Alexander Kargaltsev, an immigrant from Russia, looked at the violent homophobia that is spreading through Russia and the asylum seekers coming to the U.S. because of it:
A growing number of Russians are getting asylum in the U.S. because of their sexual orientation or gender identity as their homeland cracks down on gay rights groups.
Last month, St. Petersburg politicians passed a law banning “promotion” of homosexuality — effectively making it a crime to write, talk or hold meetings about being gay.
Human Rights Watch says that law and similar ones in other Russian cities could make rainbow flag T-shirts illegal.
“It’s getting worse,” said Kargaltsev, who won asylum in May.
The U.S. granted 21,113 immigrants asylum in 2010; 548 were from Russia.
While the feds don’t reveal the reason for asylum, advocacy group Immigration Equality said that in the last two years, it won more gay and lesbian asylum cases for Russians — 18, including Kargaltsev — than from any other country besides Jamaica.
“We’re seeing a rise in cases from Eastern European countries,” said legal director Victoria Neilson.
In a follow-up piece on our year in asylum victories, the Daily News reported on our successes and the challenges:
“One of the Catch-22’s of asylum law is that people need to get to the U.S. to apply,” said Victoria Neilson of Immigration Equality, which won 105 cases for clients from 41 different countries last year.
Although they did win two cases for immigrants from Mauritania last year, the greatest number of the group’s clients each year come from the Caribbean. That’s partly because it’s easiest for immigrants from the island countries to make it here.
Another barrier is time. After immigrants flee to the U.S., they have just one year to apply for asylum.
There are some ways to get around the bar. Because an HIV diagnosis can be so life-changing, the feds have agreed to make an exception in certain cases.
Last year, Neilson’s group won 32 asylum cases for HIV-positive clients.
This past year, we won asylum for a total of 101 people from 37 different countries from around the world and fielded 3,333 calls to our legal hotline. A detailed breakdown of our asylum victories and intake hotline stats is below.
Although the United States certainly lags behind many of our allies in true immigration equality for LGBT immigrants, we are grateful that many LGBT people fleeing oppressive countries have been able to find safe haven in the U.S.