Connect with us

homepage news

Obama’s immigration action not enough for LGBT advocates

Requirement for familial ties excludes 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants, groups say

Published

on

Ebola, gay news, Washington Blade
Ebola, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama announce action on immigration in a speech late Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama inspired reactions from one extreme to the other on Thursday over the executive action he announced on immigration, but the sentiment expressed by many LGBT groups is somewhere in between.

In a 15-minute speech delivered that evening in the East Room of the White House, Obama announced his administration will take action on its own because Congress has refused to act on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law,” Obama said. “But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

As outlined by Obama, his action consists of three major components: 1) providing additional resources at the border to stem the flow of illegal crossings; 2) making it easier for high-skilled immigrants to stay in the United States and contribute to our economy; and 3) allowing relief for deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in the country.

The third prong of his plan, and the most contentious, will allow an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants to live in the country temporarily upon registration without fear of deportation, provided they’ve been in the United State for more than five years; have children who are American citizens or legal residents; pass a criminal background check; and pay taxes.

According to a pool report, a crowd of people outside the White House gates shouted after Obama’s remarks chanted “Sí se pudo,” (Yes we could). Footage on CNN shows them holding American signs and flags that say “Gracias Presidente Obama” while others carry “United We Dream” signs.

But Obama insisted Congress must act to make adequate changes to the country’s immigration system. The U.S. Senate last year passed a compromise bill with bipartisan support that would enhance border security and provide undocumented immigrants in the United States a path toward citizenship, but the House never took action on the legislation.

“I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution,” Obama said. “And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this.”

Legislative action will be a tall order to fill now that Republicans will soon control both chambers of Congress following their major wins on Election Day and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has already accused Obama of “poisoning the well.”

In a video message just before Obama’s speech, Boehner suggested Obama was taking action outside of his authority by changing the way he’s enforcing immigration law.

“Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own,” Boehner said. “That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that ‘he’s not king’ and he’s ‘not an emperor,’ but he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”

But Obama’s supporters in Congress praised him and said the House should follow his suit by passing legislation before time runs out at the end of the 113th Congress.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, said the refusal of the House to take up immigration legislation more the 500 days after action by the Senate demonstrates the need for executive action.

“Given the fact that House Republicans have failed to act on the bipartisan Senate reform bill, they can’t expect the president to do nothing and the president should not accept the status quo,” Baldwin said. “I remain committed to finishing the job on bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform but until we can achieve that goal, I support the president keeping his promise to take action and do what he can legally do to fix our broken system.”

A common theme among defenders of Obama in the face of suggestions by Republicans he’s acting unlawfully is that every president since Dwight Eisenhower has used on executive authority to change the implementation of immigration law.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama’s action will millions of immigrants in the United States, including those who identify as LGBT.

“Millions of undocumented immigrants who have been waiting in perpetual fear for far too long will finally have relief thanks to the strong leadership of President Obama,” Griffin said. “Administrative relief from deportation for thousands of LGBT people who want nothing more than pursuing happiness and living openly, honestly and without fear of deportation is an important interim step. It’s now up to Congress to do its job and pass comprehensive, lasting immigration reforms.”

According to a March 2013 report from the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles, 267,000 of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States identify as LGBT. About 71 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Hispanic and 15 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Asian or Pacific Islander, the report says.

But the reaction among many LGBT advocacy groups was more nuanced. The groups say granting relief only to immigrants who have familial ties to the United States unfairly impacts those are LGBT because they’re more unlikely to have children or be recognized as parents in the state where they live.

Moreover, LGBT immigrants are also much more likely to be excluded from relief because of a minor criminal record. For example, more than one in four transgender undocumented immigrants have had to commit low-level infractions, such as prostitution, shoplifting or turnstile jumping at some point in their life, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Other concerns are related to immigration detention facilities, where advocates say LGBT undocumented immigrants often face discrimination and harassment.

Aaron Morris, legal director for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said his organization welcomes the relief under Obama’s action, but believes LGBT immigrants will be left behind.

“The president’s choice to require formal familial ties to qualifying citizens and lawful permanent residents appears to exclude LGBT immigrants from accessing legal protections,” Morris said. “Our priority moving forward is to ensure that immigration law recognizes LGBT families and protects LGBT immigrants from deportation to homophobic and transphobic countries.”

Pabitra Benjamin, organizing director for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, said Obama’s move “will have tremendous impact” on LGBT immigrants who hail from Asia and the Pacific Islands, but more action is needed.

“We were dismayed that the President did not include the parents of DREAMers, create a new non-familial category for LGBT immigration or access to health care for undocumented immigrants,” Benjamin said. “NQAPIA will continue to work with the administration through implementation, as well as the Congress, and to address these issues.”

Similar concerns that relief won’t be extended to LGBT undocumented immigrants in the United States were expressed by Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“Millions of people will sleep a bit more easily tonight because the president is taking action to help fix our broken immigration system,” Carey said. “And there are many who do not get relief such as: undocumented immigrants who don’t have any close U.S. citizen/resident relatives or whose family relationships with U.S. citizens/residents are not recognized — this includes thousands of LGBTQ families — and people who are being abused or vulnerable to abuse in immigration detention centers.”

In May, Carey was among the 27 protesters who were arrested for blocking an intersection near the U.S. Capitol in a demonstration intended to show support for immigration reform.

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, also said more work is needed to protect LGBT immigrants while in immigration detention facilities.

“Many LGBT immigrants have fled life-threatening persecution because of who they are and who they love, to make this country their own and contribute to its success,” Keisling said. “Once here in the U.S., they are subject to horrific conditions in immigration detention, and the constant fear of deportation to face further violence or death.”

Concluding his remarks, Obama recognized the wide diversity of immigrants in the United States and emphasized the nation is “and always will be a nation of immigrants.”

“And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship,” Obama said. “What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

homepage news

Trans woman sues D.C. Jail for placing her in men’s unit

Lawsuit charges city with exposing inmates to ‘risk of sexual violence’

Published

on

Sunday Hinton (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C.)

The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a class action lawsuit on May 11 on behalf of a transgender woman being held in the D.C. Jail on grounds that the city violated its own Human Rights Act and the woman’s constitutional rights by placing her in the men’s housing facility at the jail.

The lawsuit charges that D.C. Department of Corrections officials violated local and federal law by placing D.C. resident Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail against her wishes without following a longstanding DOC policy of bringing the decision of where she should be placed before the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee.

The committee, which includes members of the public, including transgender members, makes recommendations on whether a transgender inmate should be placed in either the men’s or the women’s housing unit based on their gender identity along with other considerations, including whether a trans inmate’s safety could be at risk. Under the policy, DOC officials must give strong consideration to the recommendations of the committee.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the committee has not met or acted on any trans-related jail housing matter since January 2020.

It says Hinton was taken to the D.C. Jail on April 26 after a judge ordered her held following an arrest for an alleged unarmed burglary in which she attempted to take $20.

It notes that the Department of Corrections has a “default” policy of placing transgender inmates in either the male or female housing unit at the D.C. Jail and other city detention holding facilities based on the inmate’s “anatomy.” If a female transgender inmate is anatomically male, the inmate – barring other mitigating circumstances – is placed in the male housing facility under the default policy. Similarly, a male transgender inmate who is anatomically female is placed by default in the women’s housing unit under the DOC policy.

“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” the ACLU says in a statement released on the day it filed the lawsuit on Hinton’s behalf. “It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” ACLU attorney Megan Yan said in the statement.

Yan was referring to yet another DOC policy that sometimes gives a transgender inmate placed in a housing unit contrary to their gender identity the option of being placed in “protective custody,” which the lawsuit calls another name for solitary confinement. The ACLU and the Public Defender Service have said solitary confinement in prisons is known to result in serious psychological harm to inmates placed in such confinement.

“Because DOC’s unconstitutional policy exposes every transgender individual in its custody to discrimination, degradation, and risk of sexual violence, Ms. Hinton seeks, on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, a court order that strikes down DOC’s unlawful focus on anatomy as the touchstone for its housing decisions regarding transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.

It further calls on the DOC to use “gender identity, not anatomy, as the default basis for housing assignments” for transgender inmates and to provide all trans individuals a prompt hearing by the DOC Transgender Housing Committee.

It calls for the DOC to be required to implement the recommendations of the Housing Committee “so that each person is housed as safely as possible and without discrimination.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Hinton’s attorneys filed an application for a temporary restraining order to immediately require the DOC to transfer Hinton to the D.C. Jail’s women’s housing facility. The attorneys also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the DOC from using a transgender person’s anatomy as the default or sole criteria in making housing assignments at the jail.

In response to a request from the Washington Blade, DOC spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon sent the Blade a DOC statement responding to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody,” the statement says. “DOC is committed to following its policies and procedures relating to housing transgender residents,” it says. “Ms. Hinton recently arrived in DOC custody and, per the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, was placed into single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days.”

The statement adds, “Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. D.C. DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton’s concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents’ needs are met.”

DOC spokesperson Blackmon didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the Transgender Housing Committee has not met for over a year, which the ACLU has said resulted in all transgender female inmates being placed in the male housing facility.

Blackmon also couldn’t immediately be reached for a second follow-up question asking for DOC’s response to the lawsuit’s claim that DOC officials told Hinton’s lawyers that she was being placed in the men’s housing facility because she was anatomically male.

The lawsuit says the DOC default policy of placing Hinton in the jail’s male housing unit violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on gender identity. The act has been interpreted to mean private businesses or the city government cannot prevent a transgender person from using facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms that are in accordance with their gender identity.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Hinton has been arrested a total of 24 times in D.C. between 2006 and 2018. All except three of those arrests are listed as misdemeanor offenses, with just three listed as alleged felony offenses. One of the arrests is listed as a traffic offense.
In nearly all of the prior arrests, the court records identify Hinton by her birth first name, with her last name of Hinton used in all of the arrest records.
The burglary offense for which Hinton was charged on April 26 of this year and for which she is currently being held the D.C. Jail would  normally not result in a defendant being held in jail while awaiting trial. The fact that Hinton is being held rather than released pending trial suggests her prior arrest record may have prompted a judge to order her incarceration.
ACLU attorney Yan, who is among the attorneys representing Hinton in the lawsuit, said Hinton’s prior arrest record should not be a factor in the lawsuit.
“We don’t think any of the underlying things are relevant to her claim in this lawsuit, which is based on her identity and the fact that her constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination are being violated,” Yan said. “At the end of the day, Sunday is a transgender woman and she’s a woman and she deserves to be held according to her gender identity as she desires.”
Continue Reading

homepage news

Gay Iranian man murdered in so-called honor killing

State Department describes Ali Fazeli Monfared’s death as ‘appalling’

Published

on

Ali Fazeli Monfared (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Reports indicate an Iranian man’s relatives killed him after they discovered he was gay.

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network wrote on its website that Ali Fazeli Monfared, 20, was kidnapped in Ahvaz, a city in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province on May 4.

The advocacy group said Monfared, who was known as Alireza, was beheaded. His body was reportedly found on May 5, the day after he was kidnapped.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had exempted Monfared from military service because he is gay, even though consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death in the country. An activist who has known Monfared since late 2019 told the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network his half-brother discovered he was gay when he opened an envelope from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that contained his military exemption card.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, reported Monfared at the time of his murder was planning to flee Iran and live with his boyfriend, who previously sought refuge in Turkey. Alinejad said Monfared’s half-brother and cousins killed him “as part of an honor killing.”

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network says authorities have arrested Monfared’s half-brother and cousins and charged them with first-degree murder. A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday in a statement to the Washington Blade described the Fazeli Monfared’s murder as “appalling.”

“The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The struggle to end violence, discrimination, criminalization and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons is a global challenge, and one that remains central to our commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals,” said the spokesperson.

“Iran must do more to ensure the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are protected,” added the spokesperson. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Monfared’s loved ones.”

Continue Reading

Coronavirus

D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

Published

on

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Trending