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No Gaiety Here: Undocumented LGBT Youth in America

No Gaiety Here: Undocumented LGBT Youth in America

Eviana Englert

At least 267,000 undocumented Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) adults are presently living in the United States.[1] This figure, however, does not include those undocumented LGBT immigrants under the age of eighteen.[2] LGBT-identified youth not only deal with higher rates of violence at home, familial rejection, and homelessness than heterosexual children, but introducing immigration issues significantly increases these risks.[3] Overwhelming roadblocks obstruct individuals’ attempts to obtain lawful immigration status in the United States, and LGBT immigrant youth “must endure the same ‘coming out’ process as their American counterparts, but they also face the additional burden of living undocumented or facing deportation if their families reject them.”[4]

Particular challenges facing undocumented LGBT youth include:

  • Denial of asylum based on non-conformance with asylum officers’ stereotypes of what it means to be LGBT;
  • Deficiency of culturally-sensitive social services, and the need for collaboration between local agencies, organizations, churches, and community centers;
  • A lack of beds in the foster care system, especially those available to transgender girls and boys, which funnels youth into homelessness and prostitution;
  • Unavailability of and desperate need for better access to counsel and more tailored representation;
  • Exclusion from accessing federal health care benefits, such as the ability to buy insurance through exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act.[5]
  • Unacceptable conditions in mandatory detention centers, which are especially detrimental to LGBT detainees;
  • The one-year deadline to file for asylum under current immigration law; and
  • The lack of an achievable road to citizenship, which includes access to education.

This Note will provide a history of protections and services provided to undocumented LGBT youth in the United States and an overview of the current federal immigration policy. It will discuss the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013—proposed immigration reform that passed the United States Senate this year—what it does to further the progress of LGBT youth advocacy, whom it helps, and whom is left still unprotected.

Senator Patrick Leahy’s proposed bills, including the Refugee Protection Act, respond to current shortfalls in the law and provide a new model for immigration, which improves protections for refugees and asylum seekers.[6] This Note will culminate with a practical component proposing potential means of addressing the unique difficulties confronting undocumented LGBT youth, such as the feasibility of establishing a new immigration court system specific to LGBT youth, establishing better detention facility standard-operating procedures through investigative regulations and increased consequences, and increasing federal funding for comprehensive training and oversight of legal advocates.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at




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