Can I Apply for Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Latvia?
Despite being a multi-party democracy, certain members of Latvian society may be viewed as having undergone persecution.
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Between 1991, when Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union, and 1996, immigration to the U.S. rose as people became unhappy with the changes in Latvia -- and asylum is one of the ways in which Latvians obtain U.S. residence. According to the 2000 census, 87,564 people of Latvian descent live in the United States, mostly in California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and Michigan.
Do Many People Gain Asylum From Latvia?
Latvia is a multi-party parliamentary democracy -- not the type of country one might think of as producing many asylum claimants. However, serious problems remain, especially for Latvian citizens within the LGBT community.
The Latvian LGBT community lives in what's considered a “hostile” climate, among the most negative in Europe. (See ILGA Europe, "Latvia: The Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights.")
Almost half of 501 Latvians who completed a 2013 European Union-wide survey about LGBT treatment said they felt discriminated against or harassed because of their sexual orientation. And the organization ILGA Europe ranks Latvia 36th out of 49 European countries in how LGBT people are treated legally. (See "ILGA Europe Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe 2014.")
The U.S. State Department also reports widespread intolerance and underreporting of attacks based on sexual orientation (see U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, Latvia.)
LGBT claims are often granted, as long as the evidence presented by the asylum applicant is credible (detailed, consistent and plausible) and corroborated by country-conditions information.
What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Latvia?
Claims coming from Latvians are often based on membership in a particular social group (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).
What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Latvia?
As with any LGBT claim, the most common reason for an immigration judge or asylum officer to deny a case is that, while you'll need to found your claim on persecution based on membership in a particular social group, the judge or officer does not believe that you actually belong to that group.
Another reason why a judge or officer might deny your claim is because the country conditions reports indicate government support of the LGBT community, based on evidence such as the annual Riga Pride and Friendship Day event.
What Can Latvians Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?
If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and applying for asylum because of persecution you experienced or fear in Latvia, it is important that you submit articles and statistics to corroborate your experiences. Anticipate that the judge or officer will have seen articles showing LGBT life in Latvia in a positive light — and focus on countering these articles with others.
For example, you might tell the judge or officer that an annual pride event is held in Riga, but explain that permits are often withheld. Submit articles that speak about anti-gay Latvians who attend those events. Explain how most Latvians are opposed to holding the event and participants are threatened with violence. (For example, see “Heavy security as protesters outnumber gays at Riga Pride,” Pink News, and “Successful pride parade in Riga despite heavy protests, June 3, 2012, Amnesty International.)