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Advocacy groups condemn Biden immigration executive order

Directive ‘catastrophic’ for LGBTQ asylum seekers

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President Joe Biden (X screen capture)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order that prohibits migrants from asking for asylum in the U.S. if they “unlawfully” cross the Southern border.

Senior administration officials on Tuesday told reporters before Biden announced the directive that it will take effect “when high levels of encounters at the Southern border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today.” The Associated Press reported this figure is 2,500 “border encounters between ports of entry” a day. 

“Today, I’m announcing actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” said Biden at the White House. “Migrants will be restricted from receiving asylum at our southern border unless they seek it after entering through an established lawful process.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) joined Biden at the White House alongside San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, El Paso (Texas) Mayor Oscar Leeser, Edinberg (Texas) Mayor Ramiro Garza, Harlingen (Texas) Mayor Norma Sepulveda, Laredo (Texas) Victor Treviño, Brownsville (Texas) Mayor John Cowen, Bexar County (Texas) Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Santa Cruz County (Ariz.) Supervisor Manuel Ruiz.

El Paso, Edinberg, Harlingen, Laredo, Brownsville, and Santa Cruz County border Mexico.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) in February unveiled an immigration overhaul bill they described as “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.” Senate Republicans blocked the measure.

“I’m moving past Republican obstruction and using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border,” said Biden.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now — that’s broken — fixed, to hire more Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers, more judges,” he added. “But Republicans have left me with no choice.” 

Biden stressed migrants who “come to the United States legally … by making an appointment and coming to a port of entry” will still be able to ask for asylum.

“If an individual chooses not to use our legal pathways, if they choose to come without permission and against the law, they’ll be restricted from receiving asylum and staying in the United States,” he said. 

“This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden added. 

Biden further stressed the ban “will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a statement sharply criticized the executive order.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” said the California Democrat.

The Council for Global Equality said the executive order is “catastrophic for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and other asylum seekers from vulnerable populations — and it’s highly unlikely to help move the electoral needle.” Immigration Equality Director of Law and Policy Bridget Crawford reiterated this point.

“President Biden is playing craven political games with the lives of refugees, including LGBTQ people fleeing persecution, instead of implementing workable solutions,” she said.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexicali and other Mexican cities that border the U.S. 

ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a statement to the Washington Blade said the executive order will harm “LGBTIQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from persecution.” He also said the directive “will put more LGBTIQ asylum seekers in harm’s way in dangerous Mexican border towns and puts added pressure on refugee-serving organizations throughout Mexico.”

The State Department currently advises Americans not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, because of “crime and kidnapping.” It also recommends Americans to reconsider travel to the country’s Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua states that border California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas respectively. 

“President Biden’s unlawful policy flies in the face of U.S. refugee law and removes the critical protections and paths to safety of these asylum seekers, leaving them vulnerable and with no resources,” Roth told the Blade.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Impact Officer Terra Russell-Slavin noted Biden issued the executive director days after he issued a Pride Month proclamation. Russell-Slavin, like other activists, also referenced the previous administration’s policies they said harmed LGBTQ migrants and asylums seekers.

“The Biden administration cannot have it both ways: They cannot ‘celebrate’ Pride Month while turning their backs on LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking the rights our movement is based on,” said Russell-Slavin. “We strongly condemn this executive order, and urge the president to immediately reverse this harmful action.”

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The White House

Top White House AIDS official talks to the Blade after Pride Month blood drive

FDA in 2023 eased MSM blood donor restrictions

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, spoke to the Washington Blade by phone following the first-ever LGBTQ-inclusive Pride Month blood drive hosted on Tuesday by the White House Office of Public Engagement in partnership with the American Red Cross.

“The Biden-Harris administration is really steadfast and committed to advancing the science, and the change in the FDA guidelines is a testament to that,” Ruiz said during the event, referring to the agency’s easing of restrictions last year on blood donation by men who have sex with men.

The policy change is “something that, particularly, the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting for, as well as our allies,” he told the Blade. “I think there’s something to be said about saying, ‘Hey, you matter, and you are a contributor to the health and well being of our country” at a time of escalating legislative and rhetorical attacks against the LGBTQ community alongside a rise in bias-motivated acts of violence.

Ruiz added that Tuesday’s event carried powerful symbolic weight. Within 24 hours, all available slots for volunteer donors were filled, and the blood drive took place in the “beautiful, grand” Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, during Pride Month, with rainbow flags flying and LGBTQ people joining Red Cross staff.

The ONAP director, who just stepped into the role in April, described the coordinated effort to get the word out about the FDA’s new blood donation policy, noting “the policy is only as good as folks knowing about it.”

Public education and awareness campaigns are so important, Ruiz said, “so that we can address some of the blood supply issues — making sure that we have an uptake, an increase, of our community members giving and donating blood.”

“There’s been a lot of effort to make sure that we speak to community,” he said. “FDA has put out a series of communications via their channels, as well as their websites, and then they’ve also been leaning into some of our partners who do this great work, like the American Red Cross.”

Ruiz added, “I know a lot of our LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD and HRC have been also communicating out,” and “I know that the White House shares some communication also with our partners via the Office of Public Engagement.”

Wins like last year’s issuance of the new guidelines should be celebrated, he said, because there are so many other cases in which moves like these — which are supported by the science and focused on inclusion — do not make it over the finish line.

To this end, Ruiz noted, the American Red Cross and other partners are organizing blood drives for Pride events in cities including Los Angeles and Washington.

“The beauty of Pride events around the country is not only to celebrate and live in the joy of who we are and our humanity, but also to be able to give back to our community,” he said. “And so I think having things like this, like blood drives, having HIV testing events as well, having PrEP conversations, PrEP navigators at these events — I think, you know, we need to bring the joy and the excitement, but also talk about how we take care of ourselves, and how can we give back to our community.”

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Biden honors Pride Month, issues LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership resources

New materials address ‘physical security, online safety, targeted violence prevention’

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The White House (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden honored Pride Month with a proclamation on Friday calling out “dangerous and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ laws” while the Biden-Harris administration also debuted new resources via the White House LGBTQ+ Community Safety Partnership.

“Advancing equality for the LGBTQI+ community is a top priority for my administration,” the president said, citing his signage of the Respect for Marriage Act, repeal of the anti-transgender military ban, and issuance of “historic executive orders strengthening civil rights protections for housing, employment, health care, education, and the justice system.”

Biden also noted his administration’s work combatting conversion therapy, the HIV epidemic, and “the disgraceful practice of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice launched a safety partnership to provide critical training and support to the community, including resources to help report hate crimes and better protect festivals, marches, community centers, businesses, and health care providers serving the community,” the president said.

His proclamation came on the heels of a new guide containing key federal resources, which a White House official said will cover “a number of key areas, including physical security, online safety, and targeted violence prevention.”

For example:

  1. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a training, tools, and best practices to inform risk mitigation efforts, as well as resources to improve physical securityprotect infrastructure during public demonstrations, and securely plan mass gatherings or other special events.
  2. CISA offers a catalog of cybersecurity resources for high-risk communities, such the LGBTQI+ Community.  This catalog not only offers customized tools your organizations can use to assess and mitigate cyber risks but provides organizations with access to rapid emergency response and cybersecurity advice free-of-charge.
  3. The FBI has a step-by-step guide for individuals receiving written, visual, verbal, or physical threats. This guide overviews what to do, and not to do, when you or someone you know is a victim of a perceived hate crime.

The official said representatives from the safety partnership, which the White House introduced last year during Pride Month, led a call on Friday with LGBTQ stakeholders to review the new materials and address questions.

Earlier this month, DHS and the FBI released a public service announcement to raise awareness about the potential targeting of LGBTQ events while the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team released a First Responder’s Toolbox containing guidelines designed to “drive community-based relationships through collaborative and inclusive practices.”

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Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.

The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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