Facing Death Threats in Uganda, She Fled to America. Now She Faces Deportation.

A cloud-covered sunset over rural Uganda. / Image via 12019 (Pixabay)

In the Trump administration’s ongoing anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ policies, cases where the two coincide are especially devastating.

A recent story by Rolling Stone‘s John Stanton illuminates one such case, that of a young Ugandan woman known (pseudonymously) as Margaret.

Margaret’s Journey from East Africa to El Paso

After coming out as a lesbian in Uganda, Margaret endured “being raped and repeatedly beaten,” with no legal protections available. Her family denounced her and “demanded she never speak about the subject again.”

As Instinct reported earlier this month, Uganda has been debating a revived “Kill the Gays” bill, which would impose the death penalty on LGBTQ persons, worsening conditions for frequently targeted populations; Ugandan law already criminalizes homosexual “acts.” Stanton notes that the first “Kill the Gays” bill, in 2014, was defeated on a “technicality,” but still “unleashed a wave of violence against the LGBTQ community and created a dangerous climate in the country” which persists five years on.

So, at just 20 years old, Margaret began a long, dangerous trek to the U.S.

Months later, she reached the region near the Juárez, Mexico–El Paso, Texas border. Without her documentation—or any personal belongings, since they all had been stolen while she was on the Mexican side of the border—Margaret continued on, seeking asylum.

Unfortunately, she didn’t find the sense of freedom and security embodied in the American mythos as she had hoped.

The U.S.-Mexico border between Juárez and El Paso. / Image via U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (public domain)

“The Trump Administration Blew up the Asylum System”

Stanton explains well how the asylum system, at least before the Trump era, is designed to work under federal law:

Under U.S. immigration law, any person who is on American soil can apply for asylum — whether or not they cross the border at a point of entry. Traditionally, most asylum seekers have come to these official border crossings, since it’s simply a matter of walking up to the first American official you see and asking them for help.

Immigration officials then conduct a “credible fear interview” … [Traditionally, that means] if you can show you are part of a persecuted religious, ethnic or racial minority, or have expressed political opinions for which you can be persecuted, or are LGBTQ, you would most likely “pass” the interview, at which point you’d be taken into custody to await a formal asylum hearing.

Instead, thanks to Trump-era policies, Margaret waited in dangerous, squalid makeshift shelters a short distance from American soil as authorities in Juárez slowly processed applicants. 

Protesters occupying San Francisco International Airport after President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order, February 2017. / Image via Andy Carr

Half a year after reaching the border region, Margaret finally crossed into the U.S. last month. Then, this past Wednesday, she got word:

U.S. officials had determined that, despite being a lesbian from a country in which it is illegal to be one, and despite having already suffered beatings and a rape, Margaret had no “credible fear” or any way of knowing what would happen if she were sent back.

After all she’d been through, the “arbitrary” and discretionary “credible fear” assessment of American authorities seemed to seal Margaret’s fate: a death sentence by way of deportation.

What Now?

Margaret immediately appealed, and awaits an immigration judge’s ruling. Her status remains uncertain a few days on – though immigration advocacy group RAICES, among others, expressed outrage over her denial of asylum.

 

America’s immigration system is one pervaded by violence against the vulnerable, to include its myriad specifically anti-LGBTQ policies. From its notoriously bigoted “immigration czar” to a long record of abuses against LGBTQ migrants, advocacy groups’ persistent condemnation has been met with indifference. 

Margaret’s story is one of many deliberate cruelties, affecting people from all over the world. Stanton’s Rolling Stone piece is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand just how stark the stakes really are.

(Source: Rolling Stone)

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