House Republicans and their right-wing allies are in an uproar over new Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidance that simply instructs federal agents to treat LGBTQ migrants in their custody with a modicum of respect.
Under the guidance, agents are instructed to avoid using specific pronouns until they have more information about the individual, as well as to refrain from using derogatory speech, including stereotypes and offensive language. “You should not ask, ‘what are you?’’” the document states, and offers a number of alternative prompts. “Consider the tone of your questions and wording when addressing an individual,” the guidance continues. Basically, try not to be a jerk.
This isn’t a jarring, complicated, or outrageous ask – it’s simply a matter of treating someone with human dignity and respect, something that all decent people should agree on. Moreover, many LGBTQ migrants may be fleeing for their very lives because of the deadly hate in their home nation, a fear that may make them eligible for asylum in the US.
Two LGBTQ migrants who have arrived to the U.S. in recent years are Johanna and Luz, who fled Venezuela over violence and are now living in Nevada thanks to a private sponsorship program by the Biden administration. “This journey is not easy, and we don’t do it because we simply feel like it,” Luz said in a video shared by Welcome.US. “We do it because we really have the need, and we want to search for a better quality of life.” Their sponsors, who happen to be another LGBTQ couple, have helped Johanna and Luz stabilize their new lives in the U.S., including finding jobs, enrolling in English classes, and finding new friendships within the area’s LGBTQ community. It’s just one example of how communities all across the U.S. believe that we should be a welcoming nation.
But right-wing voices opposing the welcoming of migrants like Johanna and Luz are furious over the new CBP guidance, with several House Republicans going so far as to invoke deadly, white nationalist “invasion” rhetoric in their attacks on the policy.
“Joe Biden’s border invasion is only getting worse. Yet the Department of Homeland Security is requiring CBP agents to use illegal aliens’ preferred pronouns,” tweeted Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde. “You just can’t make this stuff up.” Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert also invoked deadly, white nationalist “invasion” rhetoric in her tweet. “By all means, let’s make sure that we coddle the people invading our country by not misgendering them as they come here against the laws of basic sovereignty,” she wrote. Let’s all repeat for the congresswoman: seeking asylum is legal immigration. “Biden’s Department of Homeland Security is now demanding that CBP agents use the preferred pronouns of illegal aliens encountered at our border,” tweeted Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs. “I say they should focus on removing illegal aliens from our country first.”
Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna and Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale similarly echoed deadly “invasion” rhetoric, with the latter using the guidance to pile on the right’s ongoing attacks on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In a Dec. 1 letter, Rosendale, Biggs, and Illinois Rep. Mary Miller demanded that Secretary Mayorkas either rescind what they refer to as the “DHS woke gender rule,” or resign. The letter received effusive praise from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization that describes itself as a think tank, despite the fact that it is known for writing and coordinating state legislation targeting evidence-based healthcare for trans youth.
Notable in the letter from Rosendale, Biggs, and Miller is a claim that enough fentanyl has been (key word) seized at the southern border “to kill 6 billion people,” which comes off more as a complaint than a figure about border officers’ effectiveness. But it would be easy to confuse it for a complaint, considering how Congressional Republicans have a history of voting against efforts to more effectively combat the trafficking of illicit drugs at the border.
Now there’s a Gov. Ron DeSantis-style effort from House Republicans to rile up enough anti-LGBTQ backlash to force officials to backtrack on their new guidance to officers despite the need for changes. Reports dating back at least a decade have detailed immigration agents, both at the border and at interior detention facilities, using anti-LGBTQ slurs against migrants, some as young as 13-years-old. The overall risks that LGBTQ migrants face in detention is real and well-established, with a 2018 analysis from the Center for American Progress showing that LGBT immigrants held at federal detention centers “are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other detainees.”
A number of transgender migrants have also tragically lost their lives while in custody of federal immigration officials, including Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez, who died while in custody after arriving to the U.S. from Honduras in 2018. “Independent autopsy of transgender asylum seeker who died in ICE custody shows signs of abuse,” The New York Times reported that year. “‘Her death was entirely preventable,’ Lynly Egyes, the Transgender Law Center’s director of litigation, said at a news conference.”
There are clearly serious problems at the agency, but even the bare minimum suggestion that agents should attempt to treat people with respect raises Republican ire. A telling example of the contempt they have for migrants and LGBTQ U.S. regardless of their citizenship.
Extreme House Republicans picking up an anti-LGBTQ attack amid their bogus impeachment effort against Secretary Mayorkas comes as no surprise following the ascension of Louisiana’s Mike Johnson as Speaker, who has gone further than many of his colleagues on immigration, reproductive rights, and, of course, LGBTQ rights.
Just last year, Johnson endorsed a book “filled with conspiracy theories and homophobic insults,” CNN reported recently. “The book repeatedly disparages Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, calling the former mayor a ‘queer choice’ for the Cabinet position and saying he had ‘queer sanctimony’ and was ‘openly, and obnoxiously, gay.’ At one point, the book labels him ‘Gay Mayor Pete Buttigieg.’” Johnson is also set to appear at a conference “alongside a range of right-wing media figures who have pushed extreme anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion, and Christian nationalist rhetoric,” Media Matters reported. So it’s really no shock that members of Johnson’s caucus have picked up the torch in his race to normalize bigoted language.