Pedro is stranded on the Costa Rican border with Panama. He has seven pills from his antiretroviral treatment left, which will last him seven days. After that, HIV will continue to harm his immune system, putting him at higher risk for transmitting HIV, getting sick, and developing AIDS. He struggles to survive with the little money his boyfriend sends to him from New York. He doesn’t have to sleep on the streets, like so many people who are figuring out what to do after the Biden administration expanded Title 42 for Venezuelans.
Since October 12, more than 5,300 Venezuelans have been expelled from the U.S., according to the United Nations. The only Venezuelans who can apply for asylum status have to have someone who can sponsor them economically for two years.
On Tuesday, November 15, one month after Title 42 was expanded to Venezuelans, federal judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the blocking of the rule that the Donald Trump government had created as a health rule, “to prevent the spread of Covid-19” through the entry of immigrants into the United States. Joe Biden had maintained that rule and even expanded it.
Sullivan wrote that Title 42 is “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.”
The Biden administration has until December 21 to prepare for the policy’s end. However, uncertainty still prevails among immigrants. Fifteen states with Republican governments have already asked the federal court to maintain Title 42, a health regulation that allows the “express” deportation of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum.
Nicole Catá, New York Immigration Coalition’s Director of Immigration Rights Policy, explained that, in spite of the federal judge decision, the situation is the same for immigrants: “The federal judge in DC said the administration’s use of Title 42 to block access to asylum was unlawful. The judge gave the administration until December 21 to wind down the program. Immigrants, including Venezuelans, will have to wait until that date, unless they meet some kind of exception”.
During the month of October, and still now, many LGBTQI Venezuelans have been stranded in different Central American countries, exposed to the same dangers they had to suffer in the Darién Gap: sexual assault, survival sex, hunger, and fear, advocates said.
Pedro has no sponsor and very little money. So in October, Manuel, his boyfriend, had to work very hard in New York trying to clean as many houses as possible so as to send him money to Costa Rica. In September, they decided that Manuel would go first to the U.S. because they couldn’t earn enough money to travel together.
Since June, the governors of Arizona and Texas have sent thousands of migrants by bus from their states to New York and other “sanctuary” states. Since Spring, 21,000 immigrants have been bussed to New York.
“In October, for the first time since he’s been in office, President Biden expanded the Title 42 policy to broadly turn away Venezuelan asylum seekers at the southern border of the U.S.” Nicole Catá, said. “It presents a whole new challenge that we are worried could have a broader impact and broader effects going forward if it were to be applied to immigrants from other countries and other nationalities.”
The expansion of Title 42 took effect very quickly, advocates said. The United Nations estimates that, since October 12, the U.S. has expelled more than 5,300 Venezuelans who had arrived at the border back to Mexico under Title 42. “So thousands of Venezuelans are now stranded in Mexico and Central America as a result of this, and it’s only been a couple of weeks”, Catá said.
The Venezuelan policy highlights the administration’s uneven responses to immigrants seeking humanitarian protection, the Migration Policy Institute explained. And added: “The Title 42 policy was never applied consistently across nationalities and, previously, Venezuelans were rarely expelled, due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations with Venezuela”.
Why do LGBTQI people migrate?
“I am an HIV patient and it is almost impossible to buy medication. In Chile, thank god, I was able to get the medicine but it costs a lot”, Manuel said.
Manuel traveled from Mexico to the U.S. in September. However, back in Mexico, he started looking for an LGBTQI organization that could help him. He found America Diversa, a legally registered non-profit organization in the City that supports LGBTQI people of Latino origin. Yonatan Matheus is one of the founders. He explained that HIV-positive LGBTQI asylum seekers generally come to New York to seek treatment. His organization supports people who are living with HIV “or those who are trans people or non-binary who do not receive protection or support for their antiretroviral therapy processes for HIV or trans people from hormonal adaptation therapies and genital growth at the time,” Yonatan said.
His job starts when immigrants arrive in New York. On the road, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, works to help immigrants through the challenges they face. Neither UNHCR nor the U.S. government has data about how many immigrants are part of the LGBTQI community.
“One of UNHCR’s aims is to identify people who have been victims of gender-based violence or had to have survival sex. Teams in the territory are identifying people with specific needs in those groups. We could not quantify it, but the prevalence of rape and other gender-based violence in the passage through the Darién Gap is documented,” Sibylla Brodzinsky, a UNHCR spokesperson said.
LGBTQI stranded in Central America
Osman Lara, leader of the LGBTQI Committee of the Sula Valley, a coalition of groups that advocate on behalf of LGBTQI individuals, said that there are more Venezuelans in the streets in Honduras. Two months ago, most people would stop in the country for a day at most. Now, extortions by the National Police of Honduras have increased and people are getting waylaid. “There are more people stranded, young men more than anything, and some practicing sex work, others begging in the streets,” Lara said.
Judith Ramirez coordinates the Casa del Migrante San José in Esquipulas, Guatemala, where humanitarian assistance is provided to all immigrants in transit. The first two weeks after the expansion of Title 42 she noticed a much more desperate situation than usual. “Now we receive exhausted, tired immigrants, with lack of economic resources, sick, with immediate humanitarian needs,” Ramírez said.
She explained that the context of migration changed radically this year in Guatemala: they went from serving 80 people a day to serving up to 500 people a day, and 90% from Venezuela. The organization has given them shelter, food, phone calls, clothing, and hygiene kits. But they can only house them for three days, as it is a transit space and they have to make room for those who continue to arrive.
“They really have been left with nothing, without being able to go to the United States or return to their country,” Ramirez said.
After some weeks stranded in Costa Rica, Manuel sent Pedro a ticket to travel back to Venezuela with the Biden administration effectively closing the border to Venezuelans through Title 42. If the Biden administration decides to end the program, Pedro and Manuel could be reunited. If not, they will remain thousands of miles apart.