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Biden administration ends ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

Trump-era program made LGBTQ asylum seekers even more vulnerable

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A portion of the fence that marks the Mexico-U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico, on Feb. 25, 2020. The Biden administration has ended a Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has officially ended a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019. Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The White House in January suspended enrollment in MPP shortly after President Biden took office.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday in a memo he sent to acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller, acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson and acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Tracy Renaud that announced the end of the Trump-era policy said roughly 11,200 asylum seekers with MPP cases have been allowed into the U.S. between Feb. 19 and May 25. Estuardo Cifuentes, a gay man from Guatemala who ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants in Matamoros that the Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create, is among them.

“MPP does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management in such a way as to justify the program’s extensive operational burdens and other shortfalls,” wrote Mayorkas in his memo.

“In deciding whether to maintain, modify, or terminate MPP, I have reflected on my own deeply held belief, which is shared throughout this administration, that the United States is both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, committed to increasing access to justice and offering protection to people fleeing persecution and torture through an asylum system that reaches decisions in a fair and timely manner,” he added. “To that end, the department is currently considering ways to implement long-needed reforms to our asylum system that are designed to shorten the amount of time it takes for migrants, including those seeking asylum, to have their cases adjudicated, while still ensuring adequate procedural safeguards and increasing access to counsel.”

Steve Roth, executive director of the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration, a Minnesota-based organization that works with LGBTQ refugees and migrants around the world, welcomed the end of MPP.

“We’re very happy to see, at long last, the termination of the dangerous and illegal ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy that was put in place by the Trump administration in early 2019,” Roth told the Los Angeles Blade in a statement. “This policy forced asylum seekers at our Southern border — including many LGBTIQ individuals — to spend months and sometimes years in dangerous Mexican border towns while they waited for their asylum cases to be processed.” 

Roth added MPP “was not in keeping with the United States’ commitments to international asylum law and it was not reflective of who we are as a country.”

“We’re grateful to President Biden and his administration for overturning this policy and for their commitment to a just and humane immigration and asylum system,” he said.

Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford echoed Roth.

“President Trump created a humanitarian disaster with this policy that has resulted in well over a thousand asylum seekers being assaulted, raped, kidnapped or murdered while awaiting their asylum hearing, including LGBTQ and HIV-positive people,” Crawford told the Blade in a statement. 

Ending MPP is the latest in a series of steps the Biden administration has taken to reverse the previous White House’s hardline immigration policies.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the Blade last month that protecting migrants and asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution based on their gender identity and sexual orientation is one of the administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.

Vice President Kamala Harris is among the administration officials who have publicly acknowledged that anti-LGBTQ violence is a “root cause” of migration from Central America. Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district includes the border city of El Paso, and others have noted to the Blade that Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Congress has yet to consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill that Democrats introduced in February.

Congress has yet to consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill that Democrats introduced in February. Crawford in her statement also notes Mayorkas’ memo “does not address the many thousands of individuals who were wrongfully denied relief under the MPP program.” 

“These people no longer have ‘active’ cases, so they are not being processed by the administration, but many are living in Mexico or have been returned back to their countries where they face persecution.  Quite literally, some of these people have been handed a death sentence,” said Crawford. “The Biden administration has not addressed these cases yet and whether people wrongfully denied relief under the MPP program will have an opportunity to renew their claims.” 

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National

FBI joins investigation into murder of LGBTQ Atlantan

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in the deadly stabbing of a woman asking that anyone with information to please come forward

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Katie Janness and her dog Bowie via Facebook

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Police Department’s murder investigation into this past Wednesday’s stabbing death of 40-year-old Katie Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, located about 1 mile northeast of downtown between the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods, has been joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI).

WXIA 11 Alive news reported that the FBI is assisting the Atlanta Police Department, (APD) however a spokesperson for the APD told WXIA the department wouldn’t provide any specifics about the FBI’s involvement with the investigation, nor did the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI comment. 

The Georgia Voice, the local LGBTQ newspaper, reported that Janness, a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed.

Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after Clark tracked her with her phone’s GPS.

“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”

A vigil was held for Janness on Thursday evening at Piedmont Park.

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly stabbing of a woman in Piedmont Park

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Janness’ murder is believed to be the first homicide inside the park in 12 years and according to family members of Janness’ longtime girlfriend, a security camera at an intersection near the park’s entrance captured the last known picture of Katherine Janness and her dog before the two were killed.

But other cameras in the area weren’t working, including one facing the entrance. As of Friday the AJC also reported, as of Friday afternoon, Atlanta police had released few details about the murder investigation that has left city residents and parkgoers on edge.

Atlanta Police are asking that anyone with information to please come forward, and tipsters can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

APD detectives are also asking those who live in this area to review footage from their security cameras and contact the police if they find anything that may be pertinent to this investigation. The timeframe for review should be between 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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The CDC’s eviction moratorium ending at midnight Saturday stoking fears

CDC’s eviction ban expires at midnight tonight, millions of primarily lower income Americans are facing losing their homes

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Graphic via NBC News YouTube Channel

LOS ANGELES – As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) eviction ban expires at midnight tonight, millions of primarily lower income Americans are facing losing their homes. Hopes of a federal extension approved by Congress failed this week and now lawmakers are on a six-week recess.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that he would let the current CDC eviction moratorium expire instead of challenging the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extended the deadline to tonight. The high court ruled to extend moratoriums to the end of July but made it clear it would block any further extensions unless there was specific congressional authorization.

A White House official said that President Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus which is highly contagious. However, the official conceded there were also concerns that challenging the high court may lead to a ruling that potentially could restrict the Biden administration’s ability to take unilateral actions in future public health crises.

On Friday, Missouri Democratic Representative Cori Bush angrily denounced House colleagues for adjourning for the August recess without passing an extension of the CDC eviction moratorium.

“The House is at recess. People are on vacations. How are we on vacation when we have millions of people who could start to be evicted tonight?” Bush told CNN’s Jessica Dean. “There are people already receiving and have received pay or vacate notices that will have them out on tomorrow. People are already in a position where they need help, our most vulnerable, our most marginalized, those who are in need,” she said, adding, “How can we go vacation? No, we need to come back here.”

The CDC’s eviction ban was intended to prevent further spread of the coronavirus by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress had approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but that funding has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments. According to persons knowledgeable of the assistance system structure, one of the reasons for the delays are over complicated administrative requirements for renters seeking help.

The President had pleaded with local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds. “There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” he said in a statement released late Friday.

While the Senate was in a rare Saturday work session on the president’s infrastructure package during a floor speech Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, “We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis. We have the tools, and we have the funding. What we need is the time.”

The President’s apparent action angered many lawmakers in his own party on Capitol Hill some who expressed anger furious that he expected Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters that they were unable to deliver.

Representative Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.” Waters quickly produced a draft of a bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban through Dec. 31. At a hastily arranged hearing Friday morning to consider the bill she urged her colleagues to act, Stars and Stripes reported.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass Waters’ bill extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation. Landlords are opposed to extending the CDC’s eviction moratorium and are also urging local and state governments to speed up disbursement of the funding designed to hep renters from losing their homes and landlords to meet their obligations.

When House Democrats failed to garner support for Waters’ legislative efforts, they then tried to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, but House Republicans objected.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as of March of this year, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent and as of July 5, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey showed that in the next two months approximately 3.6 million Americans will face immediate eviction proceedings.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.

The Biden administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households.

The departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums through the end of September on households living in federally insured, single-family homes late Friday, after the president had asked them to do so.

In Los Angeles, the threat of a spate of evictions will greatly exacerbate the greater LA region’s homelessness crisis. This past week in a 13-2 vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to stop people from camping in public spaces including the areas around parks, schools, homeless shelters, bridges and overpasses, and other similar structures.

A spokesperson for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he will sign the ordinance.  Once signed, the measure will go into effect 30 days later.  Opponents of this ordinance are decrying it as another effort to criminalise the homeless population.

Homeless and civil rights activist Eddie Cruz told KTLA, “this ordinance is targeting a specific group of people in the unhoused community. We believe that this is an irresponsible attack from the City Council and an irresponsible way to deal with the homelessness crisis that is occurring in Los Angeles,” Cruz said.

In a new poll released last week conducted by Inside California Politics and Emerson College of more than 1,000 registered voters, half rated Governor Gavin Newsom’s response to the homelessness crisis in California as ‘poor.’

Newsom’s low marks comes after he signed the largest funding and reform package for housing and homelessness in California history as part of the $100 billion California Comeback Plan. The package includes $10.3 billion for affordable housing and $12 billion over two years towards tackling the homelessness crisis including $5.8 billion to add 42,000 new housing units through the states’ Project Homekey .

Another $3 billion of this investment is dedicated to housing for people with the most acute behavioral and physical health needs.

However, say activists, there is no sense of urgency in assisting people navigate through what most people see as an overly complicated application process matched with tens of thousands who will be immediately impacted and without a time cushion to work through the assistance process once the moratorium is lifted.

Eviction Moratorium Ending

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Disney to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees

We are requiring that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of our sites be fully vaccinated

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Graphic courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

BURBANK – The Walt Disney Company sent a company-wide message to employees based in the United States that they must soon be fully vaccinated to come into the workplace. With Friday’s announcement Disney joined a growing number of American companies requiring a COVID-19 vaccination.

Disney said it will give all salaried and non-union hourly employees both vaccinated and unvaccinated who are on-site 60 days to provide verification of vaccination.

The company is having conversations around this topic with the unions representing their employees under collective bargaining agreements.

According to a company spokesperson, “This decision was based on the recommendations of scientists, health officials and medical professionals that vaccinations provide the best protection again COVID-19.”

“At The Walt Disney Co., the safety and well-being of our employees during the pandemic has been and continues to be a top priority,” according to a statement from Disney. “Toward that end, and based on the latest recommendations of scientists, health officials and our own medical professionals that the COVID-19 vaccine provides the best protection against severe infection, we are requiring that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of our sites be fully vaccinated.

“Employees who aren’t already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days from today (Friday) to complete their protocols and any employees still working from home will need to provide verification of vaccination prior to their return, with certain limited exceptions.”

The company also said all new hires would be required to be fully vaccinated before their employment begins.

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