Senators urge Biden administration to protect LGBTQ asylum seekers

A group of senators urged the State Department to take action to better support LGBTQ asylum seekers.

The letter – written by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and signed by 13 of her Senate colleagues – asks Secretary of State Antony Blinken to provide additional details regarding a February announcement that the department “Would use a wide range of diplomatic and programmatic tools and resources to protect vulnerable LGBTQI + refugees and asylum seekers.”

In February, President Joe Biden signed a presidential memorandum ordering all US government agencies engaged abroad “to ensure that US diplomacy and foreign aid promote and protect the human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI +) around the world. ”Pursuant to this memorandum, the State Department announced that it will coordinate with relevant agencies to protect LGBTQ asylum seekers.

Klobuchar’s letter, dated August 2 and released on Friday August 6, requests an update on what the department is doing to implement the president’s memorandum.

“We write to commend the State Department for taking swift action to implement President Biden’s expansive pledge to” pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sexual characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of promoting the human rights of LGBTQI + people around the world, ”the letter reads.“ In the at the same time, we also write about the need to take additional steps to support LGBTQ asylum seekers. “

From 2007 to 2017, at least 4,385 people filed credible fear claims – meaning they feared being hurt if they returned to their home countries – which led to interviews with police officers. asylum that were coded as linked to LGBTQ status, according to proprietary data. obtained by NBC News as part of a Freedom of Information Act request from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The senators’ letter indicates that about 11,400 total asylum claims were made in the United States on the basis of LGBTQ status from 2012 to 2017, citing a statistic from a study by the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law, a research institute focused on LGBTQ issues.

Nearly 70 countries criminalize same-sex acts, according to Human Rights Watch, and about 11 countries punish same-sex acts with death, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association.

The Trump administration has set up a number of roadblocks that have made it more difficult to obtain asylum. For example, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services adopted a “last in, first out” policy in 2018 that prioritized recent refugee claimants over pending claimants. It has extended interview waiting times up to seven years for some asylum seekers, NPR reported.

The administration also proposed a rule that would have disqualified candidates who said they feared persecution because of their sexual orientation, but a federal judge blocked the rule from coming into force in January.

Yet other rules implemented by the Trump administration remain, and advocates say they hurt LGBTQ asylum seekers. The Biden administration operates a public health policy known as Title 42, which prevents most migrants from entering the United States because of Covid-19.

“The policy prevents many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people from seeking refuge and leaves them vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, prejudice-motivated abuse, food and housing insecurity, and other forms of violence, “Emem Maurus, lawyer at Transgender Law Center, and Julia Neusner, lawyer at Human Rights First, wrote in a press release for Human Rights Watch.

Both lawyers wrote that they had heard “shocking stories of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ asylum seekers stranded in Mexico.”

“Many LGBTQ asylum seekers are terrified of seeking protection at the US border for fear of being deported to the danger they have fled to their home country,” they wrote . “Some have been waiting for over a year in Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.”

Many LGBTQ asylum seekers who were denied entry into the United States under Title 42 suffered violence, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation in Baja, Calif., From February to April. It found that 81% of LGBTQ asylum seekers were victims of an attack or attempted attack in Mexico in the past month, including rape, human trafficking, kidnapping and other violent assaults.

Although the Biden administration established a Title 42 exemption process in May, Maurus and Neusner wrote that it is too slow to take in thousands of asylum seekers, and that an exemption can only be initiated by some nonprofit groups, “resulting in disparate access.”

Lawyers argued that the Biden administration needed to end Title 42 entirely.

Klobuchar’s letter did not mention Title 42, but praised the Biden administration for overturning a Trump administration policy that made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers to seek asylum due to credible fears of domestic violence or gang violence.

The letter ends by asking two questions of the State Department:

“What are the ministry’s plans to restore our old commitments to LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers and accelerate the resettlement of the most at-risk LGBTQ refugees around the world? “

And, “What progress has been made in the Department’s overall strategy to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community and integrate LGBTQ concerns into US foreign policy?” The second part of the question asks, “In what ways can Congress contribute to these efforts, including and beyond the Global Equality Fund (GEF)? referring to a public-private partnership within the State Department that provides emergency support to grassroots LGBTQ organizations.

The letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn .; Cory Booker, DN.J. ; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Richard Durbin, D-Ill. ; Dianne Feinstein, D-California; Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y. ; Jacky Rosen, D-Nev .; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt .; Tina Smith, D-Minn .; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass .; Alex Padilla, D-California; Edward Markey, D-Mass .; and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

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