LGBTQ+ groups oppose immigration overhaul bill

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)

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.) released Feb. 4 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.

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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