Do you ever sit up at night, or in the morning, afternoon, early evening, and all other times, dwelling on how absolutely fucked our immigration system is and how powerless most of us are to do anything about it? Haha same! But while none of us can personally abolish ICE, there are things we can do right here in Seattle to improve the lives of immigrants and asylum seekers. Specifically the LGBTQ+ ones served by Entre Hermanos.

Every year during Pride, Uncle Ike’s organizes its vendors for “The Big Lift” fundraising drive to support Entre Hermanos, which works to support the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. This year, we’re thrilled to announce that we beat last year’s record of $37,000 with a whopping $40,161.83. We’d like to thank all the vendors who participated, and remind anyone reading this that the giving doesn’t end with Pride — there is a donation box on the counter at Ike’s Central District location year round.

But mostly we’d like to explain why we support Entre Hermanos specifically and why you should too. First, a bit of backstory: Entre Hermanos was founded in 1991 primarily to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis. They offered and continue to offer free onsite HIV testing, as well as prevention services (free condoms, assistance with PrEP, etc.) and bilingual case management for HIV+ members of the community.

“Our services ease access to life-saving information, services, and resources for those at highest risk of sexually-transmitted infection and facing the greatest barriers due to their intersecting identities,” said Owen David, Entre Hermanos’ Development Manager. But while their work around HIV continues to be vital, especially in ensuring equal access to PrEP for members of the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, but there is a new crisis afoot.

LGBTQ people are criminalized in dozens of countries, many of them in Central or South America. The number of LGBTQ, and specifically trans, individuals fleeing discrimination in their home countries, and seeking asylum in the U.S., has risen. Unfortunately, our country’s track record on trans rights isn’t exactly spotless, and our immigration enforcement agencies’ even less so. It’s not quite hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire — obviously anything is better than being murdered by a gang for your gender identity — but it’s still unfair and unconscionable.

“The greatness for me of any society is how well it cares for those who can least care for themselves.”

As the Human Rights Coalition wrote, in January of this year, “Trans women were detained on average more than twice the average length of detainment of all immigrants held in ICE custody during fiscal year 2017. Trans people (and particularly transgender women) have also consistently reported harassment, assault and maltreatment from ICE officers due to their transgender status.” That’s on top of frequently being held in solitary confinement or all-male facilities, and being subjected to an endlessly bureaucratic, Kafkaesque asylum process.

This is where organizations like Entre Hermanos come in. They recently obtained funding for a full-time, bilingual immigration lawyer, Isis Goldberg, who advocates for clients throughout this arduous process. Most importantly, Entre Hermanos runs a program that pairs asylum seekers with local sponsors, which allows them to be released from detention while their case is pending. If you’re in a position to host and support an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker, you absolutely should. (If you’re not, David reminded us that there are plenty of other ways to help, like attending the November 2 Dia de los Muertos gala, volunteering at events, assembling HIV prevention kits, or assisting with their upcoming census outreach work. Follow them on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram for updates and volunteer opportunities.) However, no matter how you give, helping Entre Hermanos helps alleviate the harm being done at our southern border.

Which brings us to why we donate. As Entre Hermanos Interim Executive Director Mark Buckley pointed out, when we spoke recently, the great philanthropists of old —the Rockefellers and their ilk — gave because they knew it was good for them. Businesses do not succeed in a vacuum, they succeed because of their community succeeds. And as Buckley also put it, “The greatness for me of any society is how well it cares for those who can least care for themselves.”

In 2018, 90% of Entre Hermanos’ clients were monolingual, undocumented, and living below the poverty line. Among their clients seeking asylum, 90% were trans. Being in either one of those groups in America is challenging, being in both is nearly insurmountable. But with the help of organizations like Entre Hermanos, the people at the center of that very difficult Venn diagram can thrive here. At Uncle Ike’s, we believe that Seattle is a better place for their presence.

“For the first time in at least four days, she felt safe.”

“They are the ones who are fleeing their home countries and they’re fleeing their families,” Buckley said. “It’s a mortal threat. They get kicked out of their homes, they can be incarcerated without notice, they can experience violence. All because they look different.”

For visceral, uncomfortable proof of that, read this harrowing story by a trans asylum seeker from The Stranger’s Pride issue. Her story is also proof that trans asylum seekers can succeed in Seattle, if only they’re given the resources to. It is one thing to declare ourselves a sanctuary city, an another entirely to actually provide sanctuary. While not all of us are in a position to welcome LGBTQ+ asylum seekers into our homes, we can at least find $5, $50, or $500 to help Entre Hermanos do it.

Ike’s also donates because, while Entre Hermanos does receive government funding and grants, those funds are typically restricted to specific programs. Unrestricted private donations are crucial; they pay for the unglamorous but essential stuff like office supplies and rent. And they do, of course, go to programs.

Entre Hermanos Gala

Traditional dancers at Entre Hermanos’ 2018 Gala. Events, like their monthly movie nights and this year’s South Park Queer Pride Picnic, are a big part of Entre Hermanos’ outreach efforts. Photo by Lesster Munguia.

“We’re now looking to round out funding so that we can have a trans peer navigator,” Buckley said, someone “who is trans themselves and can work with this population that’s really scared.” Your $5 could help make that happen. Or it could just help keep the lights on, and keep Entre Hermanos open as a safe place for the people who need it. That alone is huge.

Recently, Buckley said, they’d had a client come in, a monolingual transgender woman who had been living on the street for four days. “She’d been threatened with her life, among other things,” he said. “She came here looking for a place to stay, so Alejandra [Grillo-Roa], our social worker, went to work immediately finding a place that could speak Spanish and also be a safe place for her to sleep.”

But what struck him was that, while the woman was waiting for Grillo-Roa to work her magic, she fell dead asleep right there in the office. “Snoring,” Buckley said, “Because for the first time in at least four days, she felt safe.”

“That’s an example,” he concluded, of the importance of Entre Hermanos simply being there. “If you multiply that by hundreds and thousands, you see why this little entity sitting here on Jackson is such a lifeline for so many people.”

This is the first piece in an ongoing series about Entre Hermanos, sponsored by Uncle Ike’s. If you enjoyed this piece, please stay tuned here at The Sesh or via SLOG. To donate to Entre Hermanos, click here.