LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative

The National Immigrant Justice Center’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative is proud to work at the intersection of immigrant and LGBT Rights.  We rely on the support of pro bono attorneys to provide comprehensive immigration services to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and those who are living with HIV. Our work is focused on the following areas:

  • LGBT Immigrant Detainees: LGBT immigrants in detention can find themselves in an untenable position. They are at heightened risk for physical and sexual abuse, and they are often terrified of returning to their home countries. To address this problem, we advocate locally and nationally for improvements to detention conditions. For example, we have pushed for strict limits on the use of solitary confinement and convinced the government that a detainee’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not be the basis for placing someone in solitary confinement.  We have raised complaints about the abuse facing LGBT detainees and urged the government to protect detained immigrants by implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  Click here for more information on NIJC’s policy efforts on behalf of detained LGBT immigrants.
  • Appellate Litigation: NIJC represents LGBT immigrants appearing in the United States Courts of Appeals around the country.  In recent years we have litigated cases in four circuits and won remand (and ultimately relief) for almost all of our clients.  When choosing cases, we look for cases that involve systemic flaws in the immigration system, discriminatory adjudication of sexual-orientation based claims, and errors in the interpretation of refugee law.
  • Coalition Building: Through the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative, NIJC has become a leader in building alliances among LGBT and immigrant organizations.  We collaborate with local and national organizations to build awareness of immigrant rights issues in the LGBT community.  Our goal is to deepen alliances between the movements, so that immigrant-rights advocates and LGBT-rights advocates can stand together as a united front to improve protections and promote equality.

Photo Credit: Alexandra Strada, Mathilde Cannat

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NIJC's 2011 filing of a mass civil rights complaint to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 17 detained gay and transgender immigrants prompted a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into sexual abuse in the U.S. immigration detention system and helped urge the Obama administration to require DHS to apply the Prison Rape Elimination Act to its immigration detention centers.

Impact: Protection after Decades of Anti-Gay Persecution

Carlos* grew up in a Latin American country with a pattern of aggressive anti-gay violence. By the time he was 16, Carlos had suffered severe verbal, physical, and sexual abuse from family, peers, and teachers because they perceived him as gay. After the police discovered his sexual identity, Carlos fled and lived for the next ten years under various aliases in several countries. When Carlos returned to his native country to visit relatives, police discovered him after only a week. They arrested and imprisoned him, without charges, in a notorious prison.