Every Friday Immigration Equality’s legal team assembles around the conference table to discuss asylum intakes we’ve conducted that the week. The primary question we seek to answer is, who among the many people with whom we’ve spoken have strong enough cases to file for asylum and whose cases are too weak to make it worth the risk?
This week we accepted the case for “Peter” (not his real name) a young gay man from Russia who left his country last year after being gay bashed by homophobic skin heads. If “Peter” had left his country in the fall of 2011 rather than the fall of 2012 and if he delayed in meeting with Immigration Equality simply because he didn’t know asylum based on his sexual orientation was a possibility, we would have declined his case and advised him not to file. Under U.S. law asylum seekers must file within one year of arriving here, or meet a narrow “changed’ or “extraordinary” circumstance exception. Regardless of when “Peter” files, he would still have suffered the same harm and still have the same fear of returning to his country, yet, instead of being eligible for permanent safe haven in the U.S., “Peter” would likely be placed in removal proceedings simply for missing the deadline.
Congress imposed this arbitrary deadline when it revised the immigration law in 1996, and Congress can and must remove the deadline. Yesterday Senator Patrick Leahy (also the lead sponsor of UAFA) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren introduced the Refugee Protection Act. This bill would remove the one year filing deadline for asylum and bring the U.S. into compliance with international standards for protecting those fleeing persecution. The bill would also reduce reliance on costly immigration detention and make access to counsel more readily available.
Immigration Equality has turned away hundreds of deserving LGBT asylum seekers because of the one year filing deadline. There are many reasons people do not file for asylum during their first year in the United States, ranging from language barriers, to poverty, to internalized homophobia, to fear of authorities. Everyone deserves a chance to live a life free from mistreatment and fear. It is crucial that Comprehensive Immigration Reform include the provisions of the Refugee Protection Act to ensure that the United States remains a beacon of hope and freedom for asylum seekers, including those who are LGBT.