Sep 19, 2023 - News

LGBT Asylum Project helps asylum seekers fleeing persecution

Photo of the U.S. flag, California flag, San Francisco flag and LGBTQ Pride flag standing in a row

LGBTQ Pride is among the flags displayed inside San Francisco City Hall on June 23, 2021. Photo: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

San Francisco has become a beacon for many LGBTQ asylum seekers — and the LGBT Asylum Project is meeting the need, having provided legal representation for nearly a decade.

Why it matters: America's immigration system is complex, time-consuming and costly. Most people who are fleeing violence or abuse based on their sexuality and/or gender identity are not able to take on the legal fees needed to seek approval of their asylum applications, according to communications coordinator Andres Molina.

Details: The Castro-based LGBT Asylum Project provides legal services to LGBTQ people seeking protection at low costs.

  • It launched in 2015, co-founded by a gay Turkish immigrant who'd sought asylum himself in the U.S., and initially focused on asylum seekers from Nigeria before broadening its clientele, who primarily seek out legal aid via referrals or online searches.
  • The organization has a 98% approval rate, Molina said.

How it works: Staff will first gather evidence — such as medical records, police records, newspaper clippings, HIV-related documents and letters from friends — to help the client prepare for their asylum interview.

  • The interviews are a "full rundown of their life stories" with an immigration officer, who will ask questions to determine whether the asylum seeker would be persecuted if they returned to their home country, Molina said.
  • It can be especially difficult for trans, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people — who often also lack basic necessities like housing — to talk openly about their experiences, according to staff attorney Jhon Tesoro, who provides assistance with legal name/gender marker changes.
  • Though it can take years to get an application approved, "it's really about having a credible proof of fear," Molina said.

The big picture: Though the organization focuses on the San Francisco jurisdiction, Molina says he often fields requests for help from people in other states, especially those with anti-trans legislation.

  • "I can't put into words how much the Castro means to a lot of our clients, just seeing the rainbows and ... so many people holding hands and so much diversity," Molina told Axios.
  • "It's a constant thing that we hear all the time about how meaningful and different that experience is."
  • The organization served over 500 asylum seekers last year.

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