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No More Unfulfilled Promises: Biden Must Show Up for LGBTQ+ Immigrants

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This administration can't just half-heartedly fix what Trump broke; it must do better for undocumented people.

I was still coming of age, trying to navigate the realities of being an undocumented, queer lesbian, during the formation of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in 2003. Now at 30 years old, I have lived through some of the most anti-immigrant presidential administrations this country has ever known. Years of organizing with young LGBTQ+ immigrants taught me that holding elected officials accountable is essential to realizing policies to improve our daily lives. It is up to us as an LGBTQ+ community to call out anti-democratic policies that do not embrace our wholeness and endanger countless queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color (QTBIPOC).

President Joe Biden campaigned on advancing LGBTQ+ equality across the country and worldwide. He promised to overturn Donald Trump's cruel anti-immigrant policies, close for-profit immigrant detention centers, and pass permanent relief for immigrants. But with Biden's second presidential year under way, his administration left several unfulfilled commitments to LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities alike. Presently, our government continues to subject LGBTQ+ immigrants to mass detention and deportation during a global pandemic. This must end. President Biden must deliver a pathway to citizenship and fully overturn Trump's cruel and racist immigration policies.

LGBTQ+ advocacy groups recently praised the Biden administration for bringing LGBTQ+ visibility and undoing the damage of Trump's anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Yet the challenge for President Biden's next three years is to ensure the progress made goes beyond the pre-Trump era status quo. To succeed, the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be solidified to capture the full breadth of the LGBTQ+ experience and face the onslaught of growing national anti-LGBTQ+ pressure.

Over 30 states have passed or introduced a total of 190+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills during the 2022 legislative session. Last year's report shows a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws enacted, most of which were anti-transgender sports bans targeting transgender children. Those numbers continue to rise, and we are only two months into the new year, heading into midterm elections season.

LGBTQ+ immigration advocacy organizations, notably Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, continue to expose record deportations of immigrants under the Biden administration. Rather than keep his campaign promises, the president has continued some of Trump's appalling policies. The federal government under President Biden's watch continues to defend its use of Title 42. This provision essentially bars noncitizens from seeking asylum on the basis of health concerns, and it allows for removal proceedings to be carried out without the required asylum screenings meant to protect LGBTQ+ immigrants. Trump's disastrous "Remain in Mexico" policy, which exposes LGBTQ+ migrants to dangerous conditions, harrasment, and discrimination for months on end, carries on, though a conservative federal judge mandated that. Still, the Biden administration could have negotiated a much better deal with Mexico, and we are particularly upset with Biden administration's choice to not only reinstate the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) but actually to expand them to all Western Hemisphere nationals, including Haitians, who were exempt from MPP under Trump. And that was not required by the court.

While President Biden rescinded Trump's outrageous "Zero Tolerance" policy that separated families at the border, the Department of Homeland Security continues to use war-like tactics that traumatize and harm migrant families, as recently seen in their plan to release robot surveillance dogs. Though DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas claims Immigration and Customs Enforcement has changed under Biden and no longer indiscriminately targets undocumented immigrants, he still urged local law enforcement's collaboration with ICE.

What these ICE-local law enforcement collaboration policies framed as "safety" and only targeting "criminals" have actually done is make communities unsafe because immigrant communities cannot go to local law enforcement for any recourse for fear of being detained and deported. 287g agreements allow for select law enforcement officers to carry out the functions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They expedite the detention and deportation of LGBTQ+ people for things as small as driving without a driver's license. (Most undocumented immigrants cannot legally drive).

Appallingly, our government places transgender and gender-nonconforming immigrants in solitary confinement in detention centers at higher rates than cisgender immigrants. Detained LGBTQ+ immigrants living with HIV lack guaranteed access to the health care and safety they need to survive. As these cruel and unjust practices persist, President Biden must end the inhumane immigration policies and practices, create a pathway to citizenship, and ensure protection of LGBTQ+ people.

At the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, we are clear that to advance full LGBTQ+ rights, we cannot remain complacent in excluding of LGBTQ+ immigrants. As we approach the midterms, we stand ready to Queer the Vote. We will drive grassroots voting efforts and build the political organizing power of the LGBTQ+ community. We must and we will hold elected officials accountable for failing to enact transformative legislation, including providing a pathway to citizenship and ending the detention of LGBTQ+ immigrants. We remain vigilant to the policies that target our communities, and above all, we are committed to protecting the livelihood of our QTBIPOC siblings.

Mayra Hidalgo Salazar is deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.

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Mayra Hidalgo Salazar