Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Guest blogger: Kitty Anderson, law student, University of San Francisco
On September 22, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, “Executive Order On Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” which has serious implications for asylum seekers, particularly those who are LGBTQ and women. The President states in the order that diversity and implicit bias trainings are “anti-American” and that it leads to stereotyping and “scapegoating” of white men in particular. The order announces that federal employees and contractors of the federal government will no longer be permitted to receive these trainings from the federal government absent specific approval by the government.
In response to this executive order, the Justice Department issued a memo on October 8, 2020, effectively cancelling all diversity training for federal employees or federal contractors, even those already planned. Immigration judges are appointed by the Attorney General, and are employees of the U.S. federal Justice Department. Immigration judges play an important role in the immigration system as they hear cases of individuals applying for various immigration benefits and relief, including applications for asylum, those contesting removal proceedings, and more. Diversity and implicit bias training are tools for federal employees to be educated on implicit biases regarding sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. Isn’t the very role of an immigration judge to interact with diverse individuals in immigration court? The President’s rhetoric in the executive order is a terrifying and false proclamation that racism and sexism no longer exist in the U.S. The very purpose of the trainings discussed in the order is to educate people on diversity and implicit biases, and to help promote a more inclusive and compassionate workplace and society where people actively denounce racist and sexist behavior and beliefs.
Zoe Lofgren, a Representative (D) of San Jose commented on the recent executive order and memo by the Justice Department on diversity and implicit bias training. Ms. Lofgren chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and told reporters that workplaces should always seek “more diversity, not less.” Immigration judges are in a position of power and authority to make life-changing decisions for strangers. An individual who seek asylum and is denied protection by an immigration judge risks being removed to a country where they may face torture, abuse, violence, and persecution. Many asylum seekers are women and members of the LGBTQ community who experienced sex and gender motivated violance in the country which they are fleeing. If immigration judges have such immense authority to grant or deny asylum, shouldn’t we do all that we can to help educate these judges on diversity and understand how different aspects of one’s identity (race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, etc.) often determines how that person is treated in society.
By suspending these trainings for immigration judges in particular, the federal government is putting countless lives in further danger than they are already in. This is going to have a serious effect on a number of groups of people, including women and members of the LGBTQ community who come to the U.S. seeking asylum. Since 2007, at least 4,385 people who have sought asylum in the U.S did so based on anti-LGBTQ-related violence and persecution in their home country.  Without providing immigration judges with critical diversity and implicit bias trainings, we may see less asylum applications approved for applicants who allege a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender, or sex.
The National Association of Immigration judges - the union which represents immigration judges - made a statement regarding the recent order on diversity training. In its statement, the union noted the special importance of providing this training to immigration judges because their very role is to interact with diverse individuals, especially those seeking asylum due to past persecution or the threat of future persecution due to race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group - including LGBTQ individuals.
While federally sponsored diversity training should by no means be seen as the only way to educate immigration judges on critical issues surrounding race, sex, etc., it is a powerful way in which we can hold the immigration judges more accountable for the decisions they make in immigration court. The suspension of diversity trainings for immigration judges will likely lead to “less inclusive and fair-minded judges,” as noted by Ms. Lofgren. This action by the President creates an even more unfair and difficult process for asylum seekers.