Two immigration attorneys are fighting to protect the rights of LGBTQ asylum seekers facing persecution in their home countries.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, O Cinema Wynwood is hosting a panel about immigration issues focused on how they impact the LGBTQ community. They will be screening a documentary web-series titled “Finding Home” about LGBTQ asylum seekers in Los Angeles.
Patricia Hernandez is an immigration lawyer for Rotella & Hernandez, LLC Immigration & Family Law and has worked on a number of cases dealing with immigration as it relates to same-sex marriage. Rebecca Sanchez-Roig is the managing partner for Sánchez-Roig Law, P.A. and was a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for 17 years. They joined Sundial to talk about how sexual orientation influences an individual’s immigration experience and process of seeking asylum.
WLRN: What are the levels of persecution that some of these people are facing in their home countries? Patricia, let me start with you. You have some powerful stories about clients from Jamaica.
HERNANDEZ: In Jamaica the government has laws in the books that discriminate against gay individuals.
Homosexuality is illegal?
HERNANDEZ: Right. It is. They have a statue in the books that condemns what they call 'unnatural offenses,' and under the unnatural offenses they have sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender.
What's the worst story that you've heard?
HERNANDEZ: Someone after coming out to his family was shunned and was told that 'you have HIV and AIDS. You can no longer eat with the same spoons in our house. You cannot eat out of the same bowls that we eat. Do not speak to me. Do not talk to me.' This drove this individual to spend a lot more time out of the house. He basically would just come home to sleep because his family wouldn't speak to him. He became a victim of rape and he wasn't able to go to the authorities because if he went to the authorities he would be arrested because he had committed a crime.
How would these individuals seek asylum? What case would they need to make to the federal government that would be different from any other refugee?
HERNANDEZ: They would have to talk about their sexuality, talk about how they knew about their sexuality, how they felt, when they knew, if they were open about it or if they weren't. That's something that in a lot of other asylum cases you don't have to talk about. It becomes very difficult for them to have to open up and be so vulnerable about their sexualities and their feelings.
Rebecca, when it comes to refugees seeking asylum, what do they have to say and not say? How much are they willing to say about the reasons?
SANCHEZ-ROIG: Well it's a much more personal case when you're dealing with somebody's sexuality. In the cases where I've represented asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico, Honduras and other Central American countries, they talk about the experiences that they've had since their youth. Most of my clients have known since they were young that they were gay. They talk about all of the experiences where they were discriminated, traumatized, pelted with rocks. One client was regularly traumatized by the police in his country and was raped by police officers. It becomes a very personal story and it's often very difficult and definitely painful for them to describe to individuals in an immigration court proceeding or an asylum [hearing].