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New DHS guidance on immigration omits same-sex couples

Lawmaker, activists concerned about risk of dividing families

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The omission of bi-national same-sex couples from recent guidance from the Obama administration is troubling advocates who fear the omission may mean LGBT families won’t be covered under new immigration policy.

The Department of Homeland Security issued guidance on Thursday to attorneys with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement detailing which undocumented immigrants could be deemed a low priority and taken out of the deportation pipeline.

The guidance is the result of the announcement from the Obama administration in August that it will conduct a case-by-case review of about 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation. Those who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk will be a higher priority for deportation, while those who are deemed lower priority will be taken out of the pipeline.

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Administration officials have said they’ll weigh a person’s ties and contributions to the community and family relationships in considering which immigrants are low priority, and these criteria would be inclusive of LGBT families.

According to the New York Times, the process for determining which immigrants could be taken out of the deportation pipeline began on Thursday.

But in the guidance spelling out the details for this review, no mention of immigrants who are in same-sex relationships with U.S. citizens is enumerated among the categories of people who are listed as those who could be considered low priority.

Categories that are identified as low priority include immigrants who had enlisted in the armed forces or those who came to the United States under the age of 16 and are pursuing a college degree. Such immigrants would be eligible for citizenship under passage of the DREAM Act.

Other categories deemed low priority are those who older than age 65 and have lived in the country for more than 10 years and those who have been the victim of domestic violence.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the lack of explicit mention of bi-national same-sex couples “isn’t just deeply disappointing; it is also detrimental to LGBT immigrants and their American spouses and partners.”

“By declining to address, in writing, the unique circumstances surrounding those couples, DHS has left too much room for interpretation and left too many couples vulnerable to separation,” Ralls said. “There is no justifiable reason for exclusionary guidelines, and every reason to be explicit in clarifying that the administration believes LGBT Americans should not be forced apart from their husbands and wives.”

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Despite the lack of explicit mention, the guidance identifies as another low category an undocumented immigrant “who has a very long-term presence in the United States, has a immediate family member who is a United States citizen, and has established compelling ties and made compelling contributions to the United States.” An immigrant in a same-sex relationship with a U.S. citizen may qualify in this category.

Ralls acknowledged that DHS may intend for bi-national same-sex couples to fall into this category, but said the language is too vague to ensure protections.

“The issue, however, lies in the fact that DHS does not say so in its written guidelines, leaving the definition of ‘immediate family member’ open to interpretation by DHS and ICE officers,” Ralls said. “That’s problematic because, without that explicit guidance, there is no documentation mandating that officers use an inclusive definition as they review pending deportation cases.”

Ralls cited as an example a Boston-area bi-national couple who were told by an immigration official they couldn’t qualify for relief under the new policy — even though they’re legally married.

“The official — despite past press statements by DHS about the agency’s inclusive definition of family — declared they were under no obligation to offer discretion on the basis of the couple’s marriage in Massachusetts,” Ralls said. “As a result, the immigrant spouse is now facing deportation to a hostile, homophobic country in the Caribbean. Their case is a perfect example of the very real — and very dangerous — position couples are faced with when DHS relies on verbal instruction rather than written guidance.”

Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, also criticized the Obama administration for the omission.

“It is disturbing that DHS continues to exclude LGBT families from its increasingly specific written guidelines on prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases,” Soloway said. “DHS telegraphs through its spokespersons that we are intended to be included within the phrasing ‘immediate family members’ or ‘family relationships,’ but there can be no justification for leaving this up to the imagination of individual ICE attorneys or deportation officers. Strong guidance on LGBT families facing deportation would ensure a uniform national policy and would do nothing to limit the exercise of discretion.”

MORE IN THE BLADE: WHITE HOUSE SHOULD PROTECT LGBT IMMIGRANTS

A DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said same-sex couples aren’t explicitly mentioned in the guidance because the Obama administration wants to cover both married and unmarried LGBT couples.

“One of the strongest reasons why we go with a family approach — focusing on the family relationship and not a marital relationship — is because we want to include individuals who are in long standing domestic partnerships so we can capture more same-sex couples,” the official said. “We used the term the family members largely so that domestic partnerships would be included in the standard.”

Asked whether 100 percent of foreign nationals in same-sex relationships with U.S. citizens would be taken out of the pipeline if they have no other factors weighing against them, the official replied, “When we exercise prosecutorial discretion, we’re limited by law and doing it on a case-by-case. So every case in unique; every case is different. I really couldn’t say 100 percent of any category is going to be saved from removal.”

The official added that in two similarly situated cases where one immigrant is an opposite-sex marriage and has no negative factors weighing him or her and another immigrant is in a same-sex relationship and has no negative factors weighing against him or her, both would “be treated equally under this policy.”

In a statement, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) also said he finds the lack of explicit mention of same-sex couples in the guidance unpalatable.

“I am very concerned by the administration’s failure to state in its written guidance to ICE attorneys, released today, that families of LGBT binational couples should be treated equally, like all other families in America,” Nadler said.

The lawmaker is the sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States.

Nadler continued, “While I appreciate prior commitments by DHS that LGBT family ties will be taken into account in immigration enforcement decisions – and that this will be explained to ICE agents – without such a directive in writing, there is a serious risk that such families could be wrongfully divided. With the administration taking an otherwise positive step to make immigration enforcement fairer, it is extremely frustrating that families of LGBT binational couples remain at risk. I will be working to ensure that those families are also protected.”

The New York Democrat is among 69 House members who sent to a letter to the Obama administration in September calling for more explicit guidance that bi-national same-sex couples would be included in the new immigration policy.

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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