Immigration, Racial Profiling and LGBTQ Latin@s


By Verónica Bayetti Flores, Policy Research Specialist at National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

With the murder of Trayvon Martin, the critiques of New York’s stop-and-frisk program reaching a fever pitch, and states taking immigration into their own hands, racial profiling has become a national conversation. And with immigration enforcement measures going into effect across the nation, immigrants are more than ever feeling the very real effects of racial profiling. It’s about time that we as a nation engage in real conversations racial profiling, but if our conversations are going to be meaningful, we need to pay attention to intersecting identities and how those play out in the practice of racial profiling. For LGBTQ immigrants, considering the role of gender presentation and sexuality isn’t just a theoretical nuance to add to a conversation – it is an everyday reality that must be negotiated.

To analyze the ways that racial profiling affects LGBTQ immigrants, we must look at the bigger picture. Let’s begin with employment discrimination. For LGBTQ immigrants of color, employment discrimination can occur based on several factors or, more likely, all of them working together. But though it is illegal to discriminate based on race or national origin on the job, it remains perfectly legal in most of the country to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Particularly for transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants of color, finding legal employment can be extremely difficult. And yet, people must survive, and many immigrant queers turn to the underground economy. In fact, a report on the experiences of transgender people with discriminationfound that nearly half had experienced a negative job outcome due to being trans, over a quarter reported having lost their jobs because of being trans, and 16% said they were compelled to work in the underground economy for income. All this affects LGBTQ people’s experience with racial profiling in ways that increase their contact with the police, and funnels them into immigration detention through enforcement programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities.   

This says nothing of laws like Arizona’s infamous SB1070and its copycats nationwide, which compel police officers to stop people they suspect of being undocumented. This kind of legislation pretty clearly compels officers to use racial profiling, but it also means that the police are on the lookout for “suspicious” behavior. The reality is that non-normative gender presentations are often read as suspicious – especially if the person in question is a person of color.

In immigration detention, LGBT persons are subject to harms specifically due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and family status. Immigration officials are under no obligation to recognize families that are not legally defined as such, and may therefore make no effort not to separate individuals who have familial relationships based on kinship or affinity. As with any gender-segregated institution, immigration detention centers can be dangerous places for transgender and gender-nonconforming immigrants. Immigration detention officers have been known to put transgender immigrants in barracks according to their assigned sex at birth instead of barracks where the detainee is safest, leaving them vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. Another tactic is to place transgender detaineesin solitary confinement, a practice which has been increasingly recognizedas torture. Cases of transgender immigrant detainees experiencing sexual assault at the hand of detention officers, denial of health care (including hormone treatment) and even death have been reported.

Though racial profiling affects LGBTQ immigrants in particular ways that are specific to their sexual orientation or gender identity, these perspectives are rarely part of the national racial profiling conversation. It is imperative that social justice advocates incorporate an analysis around racial profiling that includes the perspectives of LGBTQ immigrants. Any conversation that does not is short-sighted, incomplete, and will leave out some of the individuals most gravely affected – and that is unacceptable.

At NLIRH Verónica conducts research and analysis of national policy that affects the sexual and reproductive health and rights of Latinas, as well as writing and speaking about these issues.

This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of Rights Working Group.

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