WASHINGTON — LGBTQ+ immigrant rights groups have welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to terminate a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic.
“It’s about time,” Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview. “This was a policy that was difficult to justify during the worst parts of the pandemic.”
The CDC in March 2020 implemented Title 42 in response to the pandemic.
Morris described Title 42 as “the brainchild of Stephen Miller long before COVID-19 even existed” and a “sort of obscure public health law to exclude people from coming to the United States.” Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday formally announced Title 42 will end on May 23.
“Ending the use of Title 42, a racist and harmful policy that was enacted by Trump is a right step for many asylum seekers, especially Black LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers that have been denied entry at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, told the Blade on Monday in a statement.
ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth echoed Omeoga and Morris.
“ORAM is thrilled to see the long-overdue overturning of Title 42, a policy that put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States,” Roth told the Blade. “We hope the removal of this policy will speed up the processing of asylum seekers — particularly members of the LGBTIQ community and other vulnerable groups.”
Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents the border city of El Paso, also welcomed the end of Title 42.
“The use of Title 42, introduced by the Trump administration, effectively eliminated access to legal asylum in our country,” said the Texas Democrat in a statement on March 31, the day before Mayorkas made his announcement. “I have been calling for an end to Title 42 since it began and I am hopeful that the Biden administration will soon rescind it.”
U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) is among the other lawmakers who have also praised the end of Title 42. U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and others have expressed concerns.
“We are concerned that DHS has not adequately prepared and developed a plan to ensure the safety of migrants, officers and our communities post-Title 42,” said Sinema and Cornyn in a letter they sent to Mayorkas on March 31. “To date, we have not seen sufficient steps to avoid a humanitarian and security crisis. Consistent coordination and communication with state and local governments along the border, including small communities, is one necessary element in a successful strategy to secure the border, protect border communities and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”
The Republican attorneys general of Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri on Sunday filed a federal lawsuit to block Title 42’s termination.
‘Remain in Mexico’ policy remains in place
The Biden administration has sought to end the Migrant Protection Protocols program that forces asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico, but Morris and others with whom the Blade spoke noted MPP remains in place.
“Ending Title 42 is a step in the right direction, yet at the border we are still concerned about the negative impact MPP reinstatement has upon immigrants who are still returned to Mexico to wait for their hearings,” said Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán, a South Texas-based immigration attorney who is also a human rights law and policy expert.
The State Department currently advises Americans not to “travel to” or to “reconsider travel” to the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California — which all border the U.S. — because of “crime and kidnapping.”
Blanca Navarrete is the director of Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA), a group that runs Casa D’Colores, a safe house for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and migrants in Ciudad Juárez, which is across the Rio Grande from El Paso.
Navarette on Monday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican border cities remain dangerous for migrants who are at increased risk to be kidnapped, robbed, raped and trafficked. Jerlín, a Transgender man who fled Honduras earlier this year, told the Blade in February before he received a humanitarian visa to enter the U.S. that he was afraid to stay in Piedras Negras, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, because “drug cartels will kidnap you.”
“The end of Title 42 does not mean the border is going to be open,” said Navarette.
“Title 42 is only the bottom of the egregious and plenty harmful policy that happens within our broken immigration system,” stressed Omeoga. “BLMP envisions a world where no one is forced to give up their homeland, where all Black LGBTQIA+ people are free and liberated, a world where all Black people and our loved ones have housing, bodily autonomy, health and the ability to move and travel freely and with dignity, free of criminalization, anti-Black racism, misogyny and all forms of transphobia and homophobia.”
Deborah, a national organizer for the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, in a statement to the Blade described the termination of Title 42 as “the right decision,” but added “for many people who have been turned away from the border to face an uncertain fate, it was too little too late.”
“The administration can restore the right to seek asylum without reactionary removals, detention, ankle monitors and other forms of surveillance and criminalization,” said Deborah. “The Biden administration has to understand that we don’t need a $527 million ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) surveillance program. We need safe, equitable paths for migration.”
Escobar in her statement also reiterated her calls to reform the U.S. immigration system.
“Addressing immigration exclusively at our nation’s borders represents a failure of vision and policy,” she said. “Outdated policies and processes harm migrants and asylum-seekers, waste millions of dollars annually, misuse law enforcement personnel and do not make us more ‘secure.’ Now is the time to reform an outdated and inhumane system, and I urge the administration and Congress to implement changes I have championed.”
“Our country can and must do better,” added Escobar.