LGBTQ Dreamers Fear Detention and Deportation and Need DACA’s Protections

A view of the Statue of Liberty is seen during a naturalization ceremony in Jersey City, New Jersey, September 2017.

This column contains a correction.

On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the legality of President Donald Trump’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The stakes of this case are extremely high: Since the policy was announced on June 15, 2012, it has provided temporary protection from deportation and work authorization to approximately 825,000 undocumented young people, including thousands of LGBTQ people. By applying the Gallup estimate of Millennials who identify as LGBT, 8.1 percent, to the number of DACA recipients in the country, the authors conservatively estimated that at least 66,825 LGBT individuals have received protection under DACA.* † The DACA program has allowed recipients who identify as LGBTQ to live free from the daily fear of deportation and improve their economic security and educational attainment.

LGBTQ DACA recipients, like all DACA recipients, have made enormous gains under the program. In addition to the effect that DACA has had on LGBT recipients’ economic security and educational attainment, a recent survey also shows that DACA has played a large role in LGBT recipients’ feelings of inclusion and belonging in the United States: 65 percent of LGBT recipients reported that after their DACA application was approved, they felt more like they belong in the United States. Meanwhile, 66 percent reported that they have become more involved in their community, and 62 percent reported becoming more politically active after their DACA application was approved. President Trump’s termination of the program put these gains in jeopardy.

A note on the survey data

From August 14 to September 6, 2019, Tom K. Wong of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream; the National Immigration Law Center; and the Center for American Progress fielded a national survey to analyze the experiences of DACA recipients. The full survey results are available here and on file with Tom K. Wong. This survey included a question asking respondents to report whether they identified as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender nonconforming. Out of 1,105 respondents, 157 individuals, or 14 percent of the total sample, stated that they were either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender nonconforming.

The authors combined the responses from survey respondents who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender nonconforming. They then conducted analyses to explore current beliefs and experiences of LGBT DACA recipients as well as potential differences between LGBT and non-LGBT survey participants related to the harms of President’s Trump’s rescission of this policy.

Potential risks of deporting LGBT DACA recipients

Although two-thirds of LGBT survey respondents reported, “After my DACA application was approved, I am no longer afraid because of my immigration status,” they also expressed concerns about detention and deportation, providing insight into the harms that LGBTQ DACA recipients could face if President Trump succeeds in terminating the program. Without DACA’s protection from deportation, LGBTQ recipients once more would be at risk of being deported to their countries of birth. Like other DACA recipients, LGBTQ recipients have spent their formative years in the United States, meaning their countries of birth are unfamiliar to them; more than half of LGBT DACA recipients surveyed in 2017 were 5 years old or younger when they were brought to the United States. They also lack support networks in these countries, with less than one-third of LGBT survey respondents reporting that they have an immediate family member still living in their country of birth. Fears about the lack of stability in and familiarity with their home countries are clear in the survey results:

  • 80 percent reported, “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about the physical safety of myself and my family.”
  • 72 percent reported, “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about the quality of healthcare for myself and my family.”
  • 58 percent reported, “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about food insecurity for myself and my family.”
  • 43 percent reported, “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about homelessness for myself and my family.”

Given these well-founded concerns about the safety and security of being an LGBTQ person in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, losing protections under DACA and being deported would put the physical safety, health, and security of LGBTQ DACA recipients and their families at serious risk.

LGBT recipients fear the consequences of losing DACA

LGBT survey respondents also indicated that the uncertainty around the program’s future—and, by extension, their own personal future—is often on their minds. LGBT survey respondents were significantly more likely than the rest of the DACA recipients surveyed to think at least once a day about the following immigration enforcement consequences of losing their protections:

  • 56 percent reported thinking about “Being detained in an immigration detention facility” about once a day or more.**
  • 64 percent reported thinking about “Being deported from the U.S.” about once a day or more.***
  • 74 percent reported thinking about “A family member being detained in an immigration detention facility” about once a day or more.****

With record numbers of immigrants being detained, traumatizing enforcement actions such as raids, and the uncertainty around the fate of their protections under DACA, the pervasive concerns of LGBT DACA recipients around detention and deportation are understandable.

Conclusion

Stripping LGBT DACA recipients of these protections would have disastrous effects on their lives. Given the disproportionate risk of abuse that LGBTQ people face in immigration detention and the widespread risk they face in much of the world, the fears expressed by LGBT survey respondents are serious. Policymakers should address these fears, which weigh heavily and frequently on LGBT DACA recipients, through strengthening—not weakening—protections.

Sharita Gruberg is the director of policy for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. Laura E. Durso is the vice president of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center. Tom K. Wong is a senior fellow at the Center as well as an associate professor of political science and founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego.

* An earlier estimate by the Williams Institute finds that the proportion of young adults ages 18 to 29 who identify as LGBT and are undocumented is 4.4 percent. Applied to the total number of DACA recipients, the Williams Institute reached an estimate of 36,000 DACA recipients who identify as LGBT. CAP uses the Gallup estimate for Millennials who identify as LGBT and applies that to the total number of DACA recipients. Since LGBT people of color and high-school-age youth identify as LGBT by larger percentages than the general LGBT population, this is likely a conservative estimate.

** p=0.002

*** p<0.001

**** p=0.035

† Correction, October 17, 2019: This column has been updated to clarify that an estimated 66,825 LGBT individuals have received protection under DACA at some point. Not necessarily all of these individuals currently hold DACA protections.