A coalition of key LGBTQ+ and immigrants’ rights groups has come forward with a strong condemnation of potential revisions to the United States asylum system. In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and members of Congress, organizations including Immigration Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and Lambda Legal have outlined severe concerns regarding the implications of these changes for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
It comes at a critical juncture, just days after the Biden administration indicated its willingness to consider significant changes to the U.S. asylum and immigration system. Earlier this month, reports emerged that the administration, in discussions with Congress, was open to new border authority measures, including the possibility of expelling migrants without asylum screenings and expanding immigration detention and deportations.
In negotiations with Congress over a roughly $100 billion emergency funding package, which includes military aid and immigration enforcement measures, the White House indicated a willingness to support new, stringent immigration policies, CBS News reported. These include a new legal authority for U.S. border officials to expel migrants without processing their asylum claims, effectively reviving the Trump-era Title 42 policy but without using public health considerations to support it.
Additionally, the administration is considering expanding the use of expedited removal, which allows for the deportation of migrants without court hearings and mandating the detention of certain migrants. These measures are part of an effort to secure Republican backing for the foreign aid package, which includes assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan as well as funding for border enforcement and hiring additional immigration officials.
“The dangerous and highly politicized proposals under consideration threaten to make asylum inaccessible to a vast majority of refugees,” the letter reads, emphasizing the particular vulnerability of LGBTQ+ individuals escaping persecution and torture.
The coalition points explicitly to the potential reimplementation of expulsion policies that would enable a president to halt asylum access at the border indefinitely. They argue that it is reminiscent of the Title 42 policy’s severe repercussions, during which LGBTQ+ asylum seekers faced egregious violence, including instances of kidnapping, rape, and assault.
Title 42, a policy initially implemented during the Trump administration in March 2020, was framed under the guise of a public health order. Its primary function was to enable U.S. officials to rapidly expel migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, citing the prevention of COVID-19 spread as the rationale. This policy marked a significant shift from previous practices, under which migrants could typically request asylum upon entry, even if entering illegally, and often be allowed into the U.S. to await the outcome of their immigration cases.
Under the stringent measures of Title 42, migrants, regardless of their asylum claims, were swiftly returned across the border, effectively denying them the opportunity to seek asylum. This led to more than 2.8 million expulsions, according to the Associated Press.
Notably, families and unaccompanied children were often exempt from these expulsions.
“As we saw under the deadly Title 42 policy, over thirteen thousand migrants were subjected to severe violence in Mexico, including LGBTQ asylum seekers who were kidnapped, raped, and assaulted,” the letter states.
While the policy was initially enacted as a health measure, it had substantial implications for border management and asylum processes, often criticized for circumventing established asylum protocols. In January of this year, the Biden administration announced the end of national COVID-19 emergencies, leading to the cessation of Title 42 restrictions. This has prompted a shift in border policies and asylum processing, sparking debates and legal challenges around the treatment of migrants and the protection of public health.
Equally concerning to the groups is the possibility of enforcing a “Transit Ban” or “Safe Third Country” agreement. The letter highlights the extreme danger these transit countries pose to LGBTQ+ people, marked by widespread violence and discrimination, making them unsuitable as asylum havens.
Transit Ban and Safe Third Country agreements are immigration policies that significantly impact the asylum-seeking process. Under a Transit Ban, asylum seekers who pass through another country before reaching the United States are not eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S., on the assumption that they should have sought asylum in the first safe country they entered.
Similarly, Safe Third Country agreements are formal arrangements between the U.S. and other countries, requiring refugees to seek protection in the first country they enter that is deemed safe, effectively barring them from claiming asylum in the U.S. if they traveled through a designated “safe” third country. These policies have been controversial, as they can force asylum seekers, including those from vulnerable groups like the LGBTQ+ community, to seek refuge in countries where they may still face danger or where the asylum process is not as robust as in the United States.
Additionally, the letter critiques the idea of tightening the asylum screening process, asserting that this could lead to the wrongful return of legitimate LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to countries where they face persecution. The coalition stresses the critical need to maintain an accessible and equitable asylum system, especially for groups at heightened risk, like the LGBTQ+ community.
The Advocate reached out to the White House for comment.
Concluding its message, the coalition made a plea.
“The lives of LGBTQ asylum seekers must not be compromised in legislative bargaining.”
They call on the Biden administration and Congress to contemplate the grave consequences of these proposed policy changes and to pursue immigration reform that protects the rights and safety of refugees and asylum seekers.
This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.