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LGBTQ groups oppose immigration overhaul bill

Republican opposition has essentially killed measure that includes foreign aid

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National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Director Allen Morris speaks at a rally against the Supplemental Funding Bill in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 6, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBTQ rights groups have expressed their opposition to a $118 billion bill that would overhaul the country’s asylum system and provide additional aid to Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) on Sunday released the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act. 

The three lawmakers in a statement said the bill is “the strongest border security package in decades to reassert control of the border, end catch and release, enhance security, fix the asylum system and support border communities.”

“Sinema, Lankford, and Murphy’s bipartisan package reasserts control of the border, protects border communities, disrupts the flow of fentanyl into the country and solves the border crisis by ending catch and release, strengthening our asylum system by delivering determinations efficiently and fairly, enhancing security and improving the legal immigration system,” reads the statement posted on Sinema’s website.

The bill, among other things, would make the asylum process faster. The measure would also increase the burden for asylum seekers to prove a “credible fear” of persecution in their country of origin and allow the Department of Homeland Security to close the Southern border if at least 5,000 migrants cross during a 7-day period.

The Associated Press notes the bill also contains $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion in aid for Israel. The measure would extend an additional $10 billion in humanitarian aid to civilians in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“While we recognize the urgent need to pass meaningful immigration reform and address the challenges at our Southern border, the legislation’s proposed changes to our asylum system would cause irreparable harm to the lives of asylum seekers, including LGBTQ+ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Vice President David Stacy in a letter he sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.

Stacy in his letter said HRC has “significant concerns that, under the new border expulsion authority, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers would be left languishing in Mexico for their asylum claims to be heard and at risk of increased violence.” The letter also references two of the previous White House’s policies: The “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico and Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Human rights organizations have documented murder, sexual assault, extortion and kidnapping of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers under the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 policies, and this new authority would enable similar circumstances for those waiting to make their asylum claims,” said Stacy. “LGBTQ+ asylum seekers will face the difficult choice between returning to a country where they face persecution, or remaining in a dangerous limbo as they wait to enter the United States.”

The Biden-Harris administration ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2021. Title 42 expired last May.

‘Immigration is an LGBTQ issue’

The National LGBTQ Task Force is among the groups that participated in a protest against the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act that took place Tuesday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Immigration is an LGBTQ issue,” said Allen Morris, the group’s policy director.

“LGBTQ people are currently seeking asylum from countries where their very existence is criminalized and under threat,” added Morris. “The safety of our border and people in need of safety should not be used for political gain.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Greg Casar (D-Texas) and Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) spoke alongside CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres, Anu Joshi of the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

Padilla criticized Republicans who did not consult with Latino lawmakers from the negotiations over the bill. The California Democrat also singled out former President Donald Trump and his opposition to it.

“It’s a shame that they (Republicans) follow the lead of a fear-mongering, anti-immigrant former president at every turn,” said Padilla. “Our country deserves better.”

“The product that they put forward would deny immigrants fleeing for their lives from the opportunity to seek asylum,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) speaks at a rally against the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 6, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Amber Laenen)

The press conference took place hours before Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill is essentially dead because of opposition from House Majority Leader Mike Johnson (R-La.) and a growing number of other Republicans. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday is also expected to vote on whether to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba. 

Amber Laenen contributed to this article.

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District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray

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Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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