January 16, 2016 at 12:03 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT groups criticize White House over immigration raids

ISIL, gay news, Washington Blade

Three dozen LGBT advocacy groups have urged the Obama administration to stop its latest raids that have primary targeted undocumented immigrants from Central America. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Three dozen LGBT advocacy groups have urged the Obama administration to stop conducting raids that have recently targeted undocumented immigrants from Central America.

The Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance and Pride at Work are among the organizations that signed a letter sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Thursday. The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and La Clinica del Pueblo are also signatories.

“The undersigned lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organizations write to express our deep opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) tactics of conducting raids in communities nationwide to round up and deport Central American children and their families,” reads the letter.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety, health, and welfare of all LGBTQ immigrants in the United States and we are disappointed that DHS has decided to use tactics that instill fear into immigrant communities,” it adds. “These raids plainly contravene President Obama’s directive to ‘more humanely’ enforce our nation’s immigration laws. Instead of raids, DHS should take measurable steps to protect people that are fleeing tremendous levels of violence.”

The letter notes “a wave of parents and children” from Central America — primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — arrived in the U.S. in the summer of 2014 to escape “extreme violence” in their respective homelands.

Advocates who attended an LGBT rights conference last October in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa said transgender women remain particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination from the police, gang members and other armed groups. U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon told the Washington Blade during an interview after the gathering that impunity remains a serious problem in the impoverished Central American country.

“Consistent with our welcoming immigrant tradition to harbor those fleeing violence and persecution, DHS must end the use of raids that drive fear into immigrant communities,” reads the advocacy groups’ letter to Johnson. “Additionally, DHS should exercise its statutory authority to extend relief and due process to all families fleeing violence.”

Immigration Equality Executive Director Caroline Dessert in a statement to the Blade explained why her organization signed onto the letter.

“The children and families the administration is rounding up are fleeing documented violence; and we know from experience that when this kind of violence occurs, those who are most vulnerable are among the first targets — that includes women, children and LGBT people,” she said. “These raids are a shameful mark on this administration’s record and directly out of line with our American value of ensuring the human rights of all people.”

More than 100 people arrested in raids

The Associated Press this week reported that agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 121 people from Central America and Mexico in a series of raids in Texas and other states from Jan. 2-4. The news agency said officials have returned 77 of these undocumented immigrants to their home countries.

Johnson in a Jan. 4 statement said the raids targeted undocumented immigrants and their children who entered the U.S. from Mexico after May 1, 2014.

“The focus of recent operations was individuals issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, who had exhausted appropriate legal remedies or had no outstanding appeal or claim for relief or protection from removal under our laws,” an ICE spokesperson told the Blade on Friday.

“As a law enforcement agency, we are working to enforce the law and secure our borders in accordance with our priorities and in accordance with our legal obligations,” added the spokesperson. “At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity.”

Advocates have repeatedly criticized ICE over the mistreatment they say undocumented LGBT immigrants suffer while in their custody.

Angela People, co-director of GetEQUAL, and other advocates earlier this week sharply criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force over a panel at its upcoming Creating Change Conference that was to have included ICE representatives.

National LGBTQ Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal told the Blade on Monday that his organization cancelled the panel in response “to concerns from our community.” The National LGBTQ Task Force is among the groups that signed onto the letter to Johnson about the raids.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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