Everyone who knows about Entre Hermanos knows that it’s the go-to organization for HIV testing and support in the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. What fewer people know is that, in addition to being a safe place for to get assistance with HIV care and counseling, the organization is also helping free trans asylum seekers from detention.
This March, the organization hired attorney Isis Goldberg, whose job is to help LGBTQ+ asylum seekers get out of ICE detention centers and into safe, stable homes, where they can receive adequate healthcare and properly prepare their case for asylum.
When a person is detained, they’re demoralized. The conditions are awful, the food is really bad. If they’re LGBTQ+, there’s such huge danger of being attacked.
“They realized that the vast majority of clients also have immigration related issues, which gets in the way of getting medical care.” Goldberg explains. “They realized this was a position that would be helpful for the community, for Entre Hermanos to be kind of a one-stop shop for folks.”
In addition to helping trans asylum seekers who are currently incarcerated, she also helps prepare asylum applications for undocumented LGBTQ+ individuals who have already been living in the U.S. but were unable or unprepared to apply when they arrived. While immigration officials often view these cases with skepticism, as asylum seekers are expected to apply within one year of arrival if not immediately, she notes that many of her clients delayed their application because of traumatic life events, like an HIV+ diagnosis, which is often what brings them in to Entre Hermanos.
While getting her clients asylum is her main goal, the first priority is always to get those who are in detention out, especially if they’re trans. Goldberg notes that, while all LGBTQ+ detainees face danger in ICE facilities, three transgender women have died in detention, due to not being treated for HIV. Thus, advocating for clients in detention is also part of her work.
“When a person is detained, they’re demoralized,” she said. “The conditions are awful, the food is really bad. If they’re LGBTQ+, there’s such huge danger of being attacked.” One LGBTQ+ man who is not yet her client, but she hopes to take on, has been in solitary confinement for over a month for kissing another man, she said. “They are HIV+, and [immigration officials] have said that they are a risk to the general population. I can’t help but take this as the fact that they’re HIV+ and they kissed someone is the reason they’re being isolated. That’s something we’re pursuing because that’s a complete human rights violation.”
Beyond that, ICE has been inconsistent about where they house transgender people. Housing trans women with the general male population is extremely dangerous, for obvious reasons. The work Goldberg does for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers is urgent on many levels, but securing release is especially important for reasons of basic safety.
To get clients out, there are two routes available: bond and parole. Bond is similar to bail, in that you give the court a certain amount of money to hold to guarantee you’ll come back for your hearings. For people fleeing violence and bigotry in their home country, this often isn’t an option, as parole starts at $1,500, and Goldberg has seen it set as high as $75,000.
“They’re fleeing and also their families don’t support them,” Goldberg noted. “The vast majority of my clients are like, ‘I don’t have a father and I don’t talk to my mom because she disowned me when she found out I was LGBTQ+.” So it’s really up to the community to fill that role.”
View this post on Instagram
Meet our first Bilingual Trans Peer Navigator! Conoce a nuestra primera Navegadora de asuntos Transgénero Bilingüe: Silah Medellín Silah es de México y orgullosamente descendiente de la tribu Yaqui. Obtuvo una Maestría en psicología. Ha trabajado por más de 20 años en programas de Salud pública, especialmente con víctimas de adicciones y pandillas. Ella hizo su Transición de Género hace 7 años. Silah se ha convertido en una defensora de los Derechos de la Comunidad LGBTQ+, especialmente la comunidad Transgénero, lo cual es su pasión. Silah is from México, proudly descendant of the Yaqui people. She has an MS in Psychology. She has worked for more than 20 years with public health programs, especially with gangs and addiction victims. Silah began her Gender Transition since 2012 and has become a passionate activist for the Rights of the Transgender community and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. ¿Quieres conocerla? Ven al FORO Comunitario de Entre Hermanos este Miércoles 21 de Agosto.
Entre Hermanos doesn’t operate its own bond fund, but many other organizations do, and she works with clients who need bonds to try to connect them with funding. RAICES, the well-known nonprofit founded in Texas, operates a nationwide bond fund, as does the LGBTQ Freedom Fund. Locally, you can (and should) donate to Fair Fight.
Parole is a less costly option, and more applicable for recently arrived asylum seekers. With parole, a local sponsor avows that they can house and assist the detainee during the asylum process, allowing them to be released into the sponsor’s care. Entre Hermanos does work directly with sponsors, and is always seeking more.
“Seattle is a sanctuary city, so there’s so many people here who are really interested in doing this,” Goldberg said. “If people want to sponsor and host an asylum seeker, they can reach out to us.”
However they’re released, Goldberg said that getting out of detention is the single most important factor in the success of their asylum application:
“It’s huge. When they’re in detention, there’s much more of an idea of just trying to process people out as quickly as possible. Because there’s a cost associated with having a person detained. Food, guards, and all of that. It’s easier for them to be denied if they are in detention, just based on the sheer numbers of people they’re trying to process.”
That’s what the asylum system is all about: if a person has been through all these things, and if they will be tortured and/or killed in their country if they’re deported, then that’s not something we would do. That’s not an American value that we would force them to leave.
Once released, asylum seekers have access to the internet, and can begin contacting family members or friends back home to document the humanitarian reasons they fled. They can also more easily meet with and contact their attorney. There’s also the matter of psychological and medical evaluations, which are considered as part of an asylum application. Most of her clients have been the victims of sexual violence, Goldberg said, and having access to adequate healthcare is important both for healing those wounds and officially documenting it as evidence.
“Psychological evaluations and medical evaluations, which are two of the strongest pieces of evidence for our clients — when you’re in detention it’s really hard to get a psychologist to go in there and treat you for your PTSD and anxiety and depression and everything else that’s been a result of the trauma you’ve experienced. The same thing with doctors.”
Beyond that, just having a home and feeling welcomed matters, especially given all the anti-immigrant sentiment people hear via TV or social media. A simple smile in the grocery store can go a long way, she said. Entre Hermanos also organizes a number of social events at their office on Jackson, to help clients feel connected. Many are no longer in contact with family, so their sponsors and the Entre Hermanos network become a new one.
As she has only been with Entre Hermanos since last March, Goldberg hasn’t had any clients who have been granted asylum yet, but she has been able to get a number of them released on parole, a sign that Entre Hermanos’ venture into immigration law is a success. In time, the organization hopes to add a second attorney and a paralegal, operating a completely pro-bono immigration law office for the LGBTQ+ Latinx community. Besides being a sponsor or donating to a bond fund, any direct donation to Entre Hermanos helps them achieve that goal.
View this post on Instagram
We are hiring / Estamos contratando! Immigration Staff Attorney (English/Spanish) Entre Hermanos is seeking a Staff Attorney to represent Latino LGBTQ/Latino immigrants in immigration proceedings. APPLY NOW: http://entrehermanos.org/immigration-staff-attorney-english-spanish/
But whether or not you can donate, she urged, it’s important just to remember how difficult it is for immigrants, and especially ones from the LGBTQ+ community.
“Most people in the US, to be perfectly honest, cannot fathom some of the things that they’ve been through,” she said, but added that that should make us more welcoming, not less. “That’s what the asylum system is all about: if a person has been through all these things, and if they will be tortured and/or killed in their country if they’re deported, then that’s not something we would do. That’s not an American value that we would force them to leave.”