FAST FACTS: Rights of Transgender Immigrants

January 29, 2009 posted by Kyla Bender-Baird FACT: “A growing number of people who have been persecuted for being transgender or transsexual have received asylum in the past few years, under the rubric of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender… However, neither Citizenship and Immigration Services nor the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has expressly recognized transgender people as “a particular social group” for the purposes of asylum.” I was thrilled to receive an announcement yesterday by the American Immigration Lawyers Association about their newly-released practice manual for lawyers representing transgender clients.  Immigration Equality and the Transgender Law Center teamed up to produce Immigration Law and the Transgender Client, a much-needed legal guide that will hopefully aid lawyers in navigating the muddled mess that is transgender law.  For instance, Immigration Equality reports

A recent (April 16, 2004) policy memorandum from Citizenship and Immigration Service states that transsexual individuals should be issued identity documents (such as employment authorization cards, “green cards”, etc.) which reflects “the outward, claimed and otherwise documented sex of the applicant at the time of CIS document issuance.”  In spite of this stated policy, Immigration Equality has heard of transgender individuals still having difficulties obtaining documents which match their corrected gender.  It also remains unclear what level of medical intervention CIS will require before they recognize sex change. 

Even this small breakthrough is unsettling, however heartening. The very requirement for medical intervention in order to receive identity documents is problematic, let alone the absence of a clear definition of what constitutes medical intervention.  This ignores the reality of many transgender identities that do not involve medical transition.  Another overlooked reality is the economic burden of medical intervention. I personally hope that this new legal guide will ensure that transgender immigrants are not only treated with respect by their lawyers, but receive much needed assistance in securing their legal rights.


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