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Trump’s Immigration Restrictions Could Be LGBTQ ‘Death Sentence’

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travelers entering the United States, at the Pentagon in Washington
The executive order signed by Trump imposes a four-month travel ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travelers from Syria, Iran and five other Muslim-majority countries. Carlos Barria / Reuters

President Donald Trump's immigration-related executive orders will undoubtedly have sweeping consequences across many populations, but they will also have a number of unique — and potentially deadly — implications for the LGBTQ community.

On Wednesday, he signed two executive orders (EOs) aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, and then on Friday, he signed one restricting immigration from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — and temporarily halting the entry of refugees.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, an LGBTQ human rights organization, told NBC Out Trump’s seven-country measure “could amount to a death sentence to LGBTQ people who have few means of escape.”

“By turning his back on people from these countries, Trump just joined those who believe it’s OK to imprison and kill people for being gay or trans,” Stern told NBC Out.

“Sudan, Iran and Yemen officially punish homosexuality with death, and Iraq, a country that has seen killing sprees of people perceived as gay or transgender, has never held a single perpetrator responsible,” she explained. “The governments of Libya, Syria and Somalia punish homosexuality with prison — even up to 10 years.”

Stern added that her organization has documented more than 39 people killed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria for alleged homosexuality.

“Thanks to President Trump’s executive order, LGBTQ people will remain in unsafe environments, they will languish in refugee camps, they will endure violence and some will die,” she said.

Aaron C. Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ immigrant rights organization, called Trump’s seven-country immigration restriction plan “poorly constructed” and “unconstitutional.”

“Immigration Equality received dozens of messages over the weekend from anxious LGBTQ and HIV-positive individuals asking if they would be allowed to return home,” Morris said. “The Administration’s reckless and haphazard attack on immigrants is a gross violation of due process and it substantially undermines our international reputation to uphold and protect basic human rights."

Morris pointed out that a large portion of the people his organization serves, either as their attorney or advocate, are those who have fled from unsafe countries.

“They are really looking to the United States as a place to live out, to be proud, to start families and have their marriages recognized, to have their family relationships [and] their children recognized [and] just to live safely in a way that is just not possible in a lot of places in the world,” he said.

Morris noted that Friday’s EO is not Trump’s only immigration measure that may have an outsized impact on the LGBTQ community.

“I think any increase in the enforcement of immigration laws will invariably harm LGBTQ and other vulnerable communities more than the general population,” Morris said. For example, he added, “If you’re a gender nonconforming or trans person of color and an immigrant, you’re much more likely to be profiled” by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.

After being profiled, if an LGBTQ person is sent to a detention facility, Morris added, things just go downhill from there: “Those are facilities where it’s bad for everyone, but it’s especially bad for the LGBTQ community. If you think about vulnerabilities, people who are gender-nonconforming or transgender are at the most risk.”

Trump’s focus on sanctuary cities, which offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants, may also disproportionately impact the LGBTQ community, as those are places where “huge numbers of queer immigrants live,” according to Morris.

“People flock to places that are cosmopolitan, because they are most immigrant friendly and also friendly to LGBTQ people. The protections we have in New York or LA are not repeated in the Deep South or other parts of the United States," he explained.

The U.S. is seen as a “beacon of hope” for many LGBTQ people around the world, according to Morris, who called Trump's executive orders “antithetical to the American Dream.”

NBC Out reached out to the White House Press Office for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

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