LGBT refugees' plight gets worse

  • Wednesday June 28, 2017
Share this Post:

President Donald Trump scored a victory this week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of his travel ban that denies entry to some people from six majority-Muslim countries. It's scheduled to go into effect Thursday. And while it likely won't be as chaotic as the sudden start to his first travel ban in January, it will probably be contentious and lawyers who work with travelers expect litigation. Monday's decision by the justices, which came in an unsigned order that also stated the court will take up the travel ban case this fall, shows once again that the Supreme Court grants significant leeway to presidents' power in matters of national security. Trump, of course, wasted no time in declaring a "clear victory." What's not so clear is what will happen to LGBT refugees from those countries. Based on what the justices wrote, it appears many of them will be unable to come to the U.S.

The countries named in Trump's order are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Under the parts of the travel ban that the court allowed to go into effect, anyone from the six countries is prohibited from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Refugees won't be able to come to the U.S. for 120 days, and the ban limits their numbers to 50,000 per year (down from 110,000). But the justices put some limits on the ban, ordering that people from those six countries can come to the U.S. as long as they have what the court called a "bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States." Such relationships are ties to family members, students accepted by an American university, those accepting jobs in the U.S., or those invited to give speeches. The problem, of course, is that the majority of LGBT refugees have no such "bona fide" relationships here; most of them are fleeing homophobic governments, religions, or families in an effort to live safely in this country.

"They usually don't have a close familial relationship (unless they have their partners/spouses in the U.S.)," immigration attorney Okan Sengun told us. "This is very alarming."

In the six countries that Trump lists, being gay is punishable either by death or imprisonment. According to a 2016 article in the Guardian, in Iran, sodomy is a capital offense, as it is in Sudan and Yemen. In Libya, Somalia, and Syria, people can be imprisoned for being gay. As the paper noted, the problem in these countries is that even if the laws aren't regularly enforced, their existence sends a chilling message to LGBTs and is evidence of official disapproval of homosexuality, reinforced by the fulminations of religious scholars.

Two years ago, gay Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas addressed the United Nations Security Council and recounted his government's anti-gay campaign and raids of known gay social hangouts, arrests, tortures, and said some people were not heard from again at the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011. Things got worse in 2012, Nuhas said, when Jabhat Al Nusra, a branch of al-Qaida, infiltrated his small town of Idlib, north of Damascus. At a mosque, the militants promised to cleanse the town of "those involved in sodomy," and used as their example an effeminate man they had arrested, Nahas said. More sweeps followed, in which people were arrested, tortured to confess their sins, and killed.

International LGBT organizations were mostly silent on the travel ban developments this week. But they should quickly join with other organizations and speak out against Trump's discriminatory measure. Federal Judge Derrick Watson said earlier this year that there was "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus" behind Trump's revised ban. When he was a candidate, Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of the entry of Muslims to the United States." Now that he's president, Trump says it's not a Muslim ban. And, conspicuously, the list of banned countries doesn't include any in which Trump does business.

Once the 120-day limit has expired, LGBT refugees from the six listed countries likely will have to look elsewhere if they don't have a connection to the U.S. Trump and the Supreme Court are undermining the notion of the U.S. as a country that welcomes immigrants and stands as a beacon of freedom for people seeking a better life. In front of the entire world, we are seeing how fleetingly fragile our freedom really is.