No Safe Place: Transgender Asylum Seekers Trapped in Tijuana
In a desperate bid for safety, approximately two dozen transgender women are currently gathered at the Mexico-U.S. border to begin the asylum seeking process. They are part of the nearly 200 Central Americans who recently trekked from the Guatemala-Mexico border to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in search of a secure future in Mexico and the U.S. The women, mainly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, report rife physical and sexual assault in their home countries.
Harrowingly, Mexico has provided the group with little refuge. On March 6, their shelter in Tijuana was set ablaze. Advocates believe that the fire was set intentionally and motivated by transphobia.
Earlier in the month, asylum officers began conducting credible fear interviews for 11 of the women. The initial credible fear interview is a crucial stage in the asylum process and will determine if the asylum seeker has a credible claim for asylum based on a fear of persecution or torture. If authorities find a credible claim, the group will either be sent to a detention center to await further hearings or released into the community on parole. Due to backlogs in the asylum process, they may be left waiting months for further legal action. For now, it is unclear what will happen to the women after the credible fear interview.
While the U.S. has previously granted asylum to transgender women in Central America, the vast majority of asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have their applications denied. Despite anti-discrimination laws, the region remains dangerous and unstable to LGBTQ people and their supporters. The United States Department of State reports that LGBTQ Central Americans experience mistreatment by government officials including illegal prison sentences and deliberate failure to prosecute hate crimes. Evidence from the UNHCR supports the women’s claims of a credible fear. A 2016 study found 88 percent of LGBTQ asylum seekers from Central America experienced sexual violence in their home countries.
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) have released a statement reaffirming the necessity of a fair asylum process for the group, “Asylum is a life-saving system that is designed precisely to protect the extremely vulnerable. We have a responsibility to ensure that system is open and available to those who need it, including transgender people and other members of the LGBT community forced to flee places where they are fundamentally unsafe because of who they are.”
AsylumConnect believes that all asylum seekers have an inherent right to safety, dignity, and liberty. We ask you to join us in supporting the rights of Central American LGBTQ asylum seekers in Mexico.