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Advocacy groups criticize new Biden immigration policies

White House to expand humanitarian parole program, ‘expedited removal’

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Biden administration’s expansion of the the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization has sparked widespread criticism from advocacy groups that specifically work with LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers and migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security will create a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work, with significant consequences for those who fail to use those pathways.”

Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.”

“Individuals do not need to be at the border to schedule an appointment; expanded access to the app in Central Mexico is designed to discourage noncitizens from congregating near the border in unsafe conditions,” notes DHS. “Initially, this new scheduling function will allow noncitizens to schedule a time and place to come to a port of entry to seek an exception from the Title 42 public health order for humanitarian reasons based on an individualized assessment of vulnerability. This will replace the current process for individuals seeking exceptions from the Title 42 public health order, which requires noncitizens to submit requests through third party organizations located near the border.” 

President Joe Biden on Thursday said from the White House as Vice President Kamala Harris stood beside him that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans “account for most of the people traveling into Mexico to start a new life by getting … to the American border and trying to cross.”

DHS said U.S. Border Patrol “saw” a 90 percent decrease in the number of Venezuelans “encountered at the border” after a similar humanitarian parole progam began for them last October. Uniting for Ukraine, a humanitarian parole program for Ukrainians who fled after Russia launched its war against their country, started in April 2022. 

Up to 30,000 “qualifying nationals” from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will be allowed “to reside legally in the United States for up to two years and to receive permission to work here during that period.”

DHS notes Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans “who do not avail themselves of this procress, attempt to enter the United States without authorization, and cannot establish a legal basis to remain will be removed or returned to Mexico, which will accept returns of 30,000 individuals per month who fail to use these new pathways.”

“The expansion of the Venezuela process to Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua is contingent on the government of Mexico’s willingness to accept the return or removal of nationals from those countries,” said DHS. “It also is responsive to a request from the government of Mexico to provide additional legal pathways for migrants, and it advances both countries’ interests in addressing the effects throughout the hemisphere of deteriorated conditions in these countries.”  

The administration’s announcement also notes “individuals who enter the United States, Mexico or Panama without authorization following today’s announcement will generally be ineligible for these (humanitarian parole) processes.”

“My message is this: If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua, or Haiti, you have … or have agreed to begin a journey to America, do not — do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” said Biden “Starting today, if you don’t apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program. Let me reiterate: You need a lawful sponsor in the United States of America, number one. And you need to undergo a rigorous background check, number two. If your application is approved and you show up at — at a U.S. airport or when and where directed … you have access, but if your application is denied or you attempt to cross into the United States unlawfully, you will not be allowed to enter.”

Title 42 is ‘the law now’

The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 27 ruled Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, must remain in place.

The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42 but Arizona and 18 other states that include Texas filed a lawsuit. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case next month.

Biden is scheduled to travel to El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Sunday before he travels to Mexico City to attend the North American Leaders’ Summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

“I don’t like Title 42 at all, but it is the law now,” said Biden, who predicted the pandemic-era policy will end this year. “I wanted to make sure there was a rational way to begin this now.”

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, on Thursday told reporters that Title 42 “increases” the number of attempts to cross the border without legal authorization. Mayorkas, like Biden, stressed the administration is “required, given the different court orders, to employ Title 42.”

“We will continue to exercise that authority, consistent with the court orders,” said Mayorkas.

Both Mayorkas and Biden said the U.S. will expel foreign nationals who enter the U.S. without legal authorization under Title 8 once Title 42 ends. They also urged Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“We are here because our immigration system is broken, outdated and in desperate need of reform,” said Mayorkas. “The laws we enforce have not been updated in decades.”

“Many Republicans agree we should do something, but it’s time to stop listening to their inflammatory talk, and it’s time to look at their record,” stressed Biden. “I’ll sit down with anyone who, in good faith, wants to fix our broken immigration system. And it’s hard. It’s hard on the best of circumstances. But if the most extreme Republicans continue to demagogue this issue and reject solutions, I’m left with only one choice: To act on my own, do as much as I can on my own to try to change the atmosphere. Immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue. We can make it that way again. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s economically a smart thing to do.”

El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on July 15, 2019. President Joe Biden will visit El Paso before he travels to Mexico City for a summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Layla Razavi, interim executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, in a statement said their organization is “deeply disappointed at Biden’s shameful expansion of Trump’s Title 42 policy, which further cements his predecessor’s anti-immigrant legacy.” 

“The Biden administration should be working to restore and strengthen our asylum system, not eroding what has been a vital lifeline for so many in our communities,” said Razavi. “True to Title 42’s original motives, this policy will continue to disproportionately harm Black and brown migrants seeking asylum.”

Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers from Ukraine and other countries around the world. Steve Roth, the group’s executive director, last May joined five members of Congress who visited two shelters for LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

Roth in a text message to the Blade described the administration’s announcement as “sad and frustrating.”

“It’s unlawful and will limit access to the asylum system for the vast majority of asylum seekers at the border, including LGBTIQ people,” he said. 

Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris in a press release said “every LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugee has the right to apply for asylum in the United States.”

“Requiring our community to file for asylum in unsafe third countries will have mortal consequences for many of us,” he said. “Immigration Equality strongly condemns any proposal by the Biden administration to restrict asylum to LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugees. The United States has a great capacity to protect and support asylum seekers and refugees, maybe more than any other nation. President Biden must stop creating barriers to protection, and instead do everything in his power to facilitate the safe relocation of all LGBTQ and HIV-positive people fleeing persecution.”

San Diego Pride Executive Director Fernando Z. López, like Morris, said “asylum is a human right and an LGBTQ issue,” noting consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 68 countries and “people can be put to death simply for being themselves” in 10 of them.

Harris is among the U.S. officials who have publicly acknowledged violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“The United States, California and San Diego have been seen as international safe havens for LGBTQ immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and their families seeking refuge from war, political violence, climate disaster and targeted anti-LGBTQ attacks,” López told the Blade. “The longer any administration prevents those seeking refuge from the ability to live safely and freely in this country, as is their internationally recognized right, our LGBTQ community will continue to have to spend time and resources triaging the crisis at our border.” 

“San Diego Pride, as an organization supporting the LGBTQ community at the U.S.-Mexico border, knows our LGBTQ community needs and deserves real immigration and asylum reform, so we can fully invest in the binational and international capacity-building work we need to truly thrive,” added López. “Today’s announcement only further delays that life-saving, movement-building work.”

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The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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White House, officials condemn Ugandan court’s Anti-Homosexuality Act ruling

Biden-Harris administration has sanctioned country over law

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Screen capture: The White House/YouTube)

During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the ruling issued hours earlier by a court in Uganda that upheld the East African country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“The announcement that some provisions of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary continued, “The United States is deeply concerned about the remaining provisions which undermine public health, human rights and Uganda’s international reputation.”

She added, “As the president has said time and time again, no one should have to live in constant fear nor be subjected to violence or discrimination. It is wrong. We will continue to work to advance respect for human rights for all in Uganda and also around the world.”

After the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law last May, the U.S. implemented visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and excluded the country from a program allowing sub-Saharan African countries to trade with the U.S. duty-free.

As detailed by a White House fact sheet issued in December, the U.S. also imposed sanctions and reduced government support of Uganda including through “new restrictions and redirections of impacted assistance, including through the Department of Defense and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)” and “pausing approximately $15 million for all biological threat reductions activities with the Ugandan Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Tourism.”

The statement notes more than $5 million in PEPFAR funding will be redirected “to non-governmental implementing partners due to concerns over how the AHA impacts the Government of Uganda’s ability to deliver services in a non-discriminatory manner.”

Other actions include issuance of travel and business advisories targeting Uganda, and supporting “victims of the AHA” which “may include assistance for those who are victims of violence, evicted from their homes or who need help accessing medical care” and legal aid for those who are “unjustly arrested.”  

Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those contained in a statement by a coalition of Ugandan LGBTQ groups, which noted that the court found “some sections” of the law in violation of “the right to health, right to privacy and right to freedom of religion,” but likewise argued the ruling “failed to identify the numerous ways the law violates Ugandans’ substantive rights to equality, dignity, speech, association and health and freedom from discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson also condemned the decision.

“For the Constitutional Court of Uganda to uphold such a draconian law in any capacity is a horrific display of hatred that will mean further discrimination and physical harm for LGBTQ+ Ugandans,” she said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday also criticized the ruling.

“The United States continues to be deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses in Uganda, including against the LGBTQI+ community. The announcement that some provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” he said in a statement. “The remaining provisions of the AHA pose grave threats to the Ugandan people, especially LGBTQI+ Ugandans and their allies, undermine public health, clamp down on civic space, damage Uganda’s international reputation and harm efforts to increase foreign investment.”

“Uganda should respect the human dignity of all and provide equal protection to all individuals under the law,” added Blinken.

On Thursday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement calling the ruling “deeply disappointing,” arguing that it “imperils human rights” and “jeopardizes economic prosperity for all Ugandans.”

“The Court has left LGBTQI+ persons vulnerable to hate-fueled violence, discrimination, persecution, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty – simply for existing as they are,” Sullivan said.

“The United States will continue to hold accountable individuals and entities that perpetrate human rights abuses in Uganda, both unilaterally and with partners around the world,” he said, adding that “Yesterday’s ruling is a missed opportunity for Uganda—not only to uphold the human rights of all Ugandans, but also to reaffirm the importance of dignity, compassion, and tolerance for all.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Biden honors Transgender Day of Visibility

The observance is Sunday, March 31

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President Joe Biden announcing plans to run for re-election in 2024 (Screen shot/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Friday honored Sunday’s Transgender Day of Visibility observance with a statement highlighting his administration’s work advancing the rights of trans Americans and fighting back against harmful anti-LGBTQ state laws.

“On Transgender Day of Visibility, we honor the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to forming a more perfect union — where all people are created equal and treated equally throughout their lives,” Biden wrote.

“I am proud to have appointed transgender leaders to my administration and to have ended the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in our military,” the president said, noting also his issuance of “historic executive orders that strengthen civil rights protections in housing, employment, health care, education, the justice system and more” and his signing, in 2022, of the Respect for Marriage Act — which ensures “that every American can marry the person they love.”

Biden then addressed how “extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families — silencing teachers; banning books; and even threatening parents, doctors and nurses with prison for helping parents get care for their children.”

“These bills attack our most basic American values: The freedom to be yourself, the freedom to make your own health care decisions and even the right to raise your own child,” he wrote. “It is no surprise that the bullying and discrimination that transgender Americans face is worsening our nation’s mental health crisis, leading half of transgender youth to consider suicide in the past year.”

“At the same time, an epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, especially women and girls of color, continues to take too many lives,” Biden said. “Let me be clear: All of these attacks are un-American and must end. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”  

The president then laid out how the Biden-Harris administration is pushing back.

“The Department of Justice has taken action to push back against extreme and un-American state laws targeting transgender youth and their families and the Department of Justice is partnering with law enforcement and community groups to combat hate and violence,” he said.

“My administration is also providing dedicated emergency mental health support through our nationwide suicide and crisis lifeline — any LGBTQI+ young person in need can call ‘988’ and press ‘3’ to speak with a counselor trained to support them.”

Additionally, Biden said, “We are making public services more accessible for transgender Americans, including with more inclusive passports and easier access to Social Security benefits.”

Yet, “There is much more to do. I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Equality Act, to codify civil rights protections for all LGBTQI+ Americans.”

He concluded the statement by pledging that “Today, we send a message to all transgender Americans: You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You belong. You are America, and my entire administration and I have your back.”  

“I call upon all Americans to join us in lifting up the lives and voices of transgender people throughout our nation and to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination based on gender identity.”

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