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White House rule would require asylum seekers to seek protection in 3rd country

Immigration Equality sharply criticized Biden-Harris administration proposal

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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)

Groups that advocate on behalf of LGBTQ and intersex immigrants have sharply criticized the Biden-Harris administration over its plans to prohibit people from asking for asylum at the Southern border if they don’t seek protection in a country through which they passed.

“The proposed rule would encourage migrants to avail themselves of lawful, safe and orderly pathways into the United States, or otherwise to seek asylum or other protection in countries through which they travel, thereby reducing reliance on human smuggling networks that exploit migrants for financial gain,” reads the proposed rule the White House announced on Tuesday. “It would do so by introducing a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility for certain noncitizens who neither avail themselves of a lawful, safe and orderly pathway to the United States nor seek asylum or other protection in a country through which they travel.”

The Associated Press notes the proposed rule must go through a 30-day public comment period before it can take effect. The regulation would remain in place for two years if the administration implements it.

“The president’s proposed rule will deny asylum to thousands of otherwise eligible refugees, many of whom will be LGBTQ people,” said Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris in a press release his organization released on Wednesday. “The rule puts into place impossible hurdles that people fleeing persecution will never be able to overcome. Additionally, a requirement that LGBTQ people apply for asylum in other countries before coming to the U.S. is misguided and blatantly contrary to federal law. Many common transit countries are extremely dangerous for LGBTQ asylum seekers, who face brutal violence, sexual assault, and murder as they flee to the U.S. for safety.”

Erin Argueta, senior lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, in a statement said it is “beyond disappointing that the Biden administration is moving forward with an anti-asylum policy that is copied from the cruel transit ban issued by the Trump administration.” 

“The Biden administration should not continue putting obstacles in the way of people fleeing danger and seeking safety in the United States, which will only increase harm,” said Argueta. “Instead, this administration should be strengthening the legal right to seek asylum at the U.S. border, not proposing an unworkable alternative that will only increase harm.”

The White House last month announced the expansion of the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization. The Biden-Harris administration also created 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.”

The U.S., as part of the aforementioned announcement, launched a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app that allows Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans to “seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization” if they pass security screenings and someone in the U.S. sponsors them. The Biden administration also allows up to 30,000 “qualifying nationals” from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela to live and work in the U.S. for up to two years.

The rule the White House has proposed would require most asylum seekers to use the app to schedule an initial appointment at a port of entry.

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, took effect in March 2020. 

It is expected to end in May when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. The Associated Press reported the proposed rule the Biden administration announced on Tuesday would take effect at that time.

“The president must undo his predecessor’s anti-asylum policies, not expand on them. LGBTQ asylum seekers deserve a system that is equitable and accessible,” said Morris. “Their lives depend on it. The rule as proposed will almost certainly result in the senseless death of LGBTQ refugees, most of whom would otherwise find safety through asylum in the United States.”

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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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