By Rebecca Henely
At a panel hosted by City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) Monday, immigration experts said many options are available to undocumented LGBT newcomers, but all have their pitfalls for those pursuing residency.
“It’s very difficult to get a permanent green card in the United States,” said Lynly Egyes, of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.
Dromm, who is openly gay and chairs the Council Immigration Committee, held the panel at the offices of immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York, at 92-10 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights.
Make the Road New York has been helping young immigrants who qualify apply for Deferred Action, which could get them a work permit for two years, and had some LGBT youth speak at a news conference celebrating the beginning of Deferred Action last week.
The councilman said he gets visits on a daily basis from constituents, most of whom are seeking asylum based on their LGBT status.
“Make the Road New York put LGBT issues in everything they do,” he said.
Speaking to an audience of about 50 people, Egyes said those interested in asylum must apply within a year of entering the United States and have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their country of origin.
She said, however, if the person’s situation suddenly changes — for example, they come out or begin transitioning from one gender to another — they can start applying for asylum within a year, no matter how long they have been in the country.
LGBT immigrants can also apply for “withholding of removal” if they can prove a clear probability that they will be persecuted, Egyes said. This has no time limit and can get them work authorization, but they must apply for it every year and it does not put them on the road to becoming a green card holder or a permanent resident. They also will lose said status if they leave the United States.
Depending on their circumstances, LGBT immigrants can also apply for visas if they are victims of a crime, trafficked or have been abused by a parent and cannot return to their home country, Egyes said.
Aaron Morris, of Immigration Equality, explained the benefits and pitfalls of same-sex marriage in immigration cases. Morris said while getting married can affect deportation cases favorably, it may hurt if the immigrant is on a visa intended to ensure they will return to their original country.
For those who are transgender and marrying someone of the sex opposite from the one to which they have transitioned, Morris said in most places the couple can be recognized as married as long as a doctor has confirmed the person’s new gender.
Panel members encouraged all immigrants to get trustworthy lawyers to help them with their individual situation, even if they believe they are not eligible for permanent residency status and not to lie about any part of their past, like criminal history, even if it may affect their case negatively. Egyes said immigration lawyers have been able to help those with arrest records, but lying will hurt their case for staying in the United States even more.
“Even if you have 10 arrests for prostitution, do not lie,” Egyes said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.