Why Trans Women Fear Crossing the Border

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As the Trump administration leans into its mission to find new, horrific ways to terrorize immigrants, many LGBTQ migrants, particularly trans women, fleeing violence in Central America are faced with an impossible choice: remain in countries where they face violence and abuse, or cross into the U.S., where they may be denied asylum and face additional violence.


The New York Times reports that, unlike victims of domestic violence, the Trump administration still recognizes LGBTQ-based discrimination as a claim to asylum—in theory, anyway. In reality, the administration has tightened its controls at the border, aims to prosecute all undocumented adults as criminals, weakened the asylum-seeking process, and dismantled LGBTQ protections across the board.

So even while facing danger at home, trans women like Jade Quintanilla still fear being targeted for violence in the U.S.:

Friends in San Salvador, Ms. Quintanilla said, were killed outright or humiliated in myriad ways: They were forced to cut their long hair and live as men; they were beaten; they were coerced into sex work; they were threatened into servitude as drug mules and gun traffickers.

Still, just a few miles from the border, Ms. Quintanilla, 22, hesitated. “I’ve gone up to the border many times and turned back,” she said in a bare concrete room at the group home where she was living, holding her thin arms at the elbows. “What if they ask, ‘Why would we accept a person like you in our country?’ I think about that a lot. It would be like putting a bullet to my head, if I arrive and they say no.”

The journey that Quintanilla and other trans women make between their home country and the U.S. is perilous, and even deadly, where they are vulnerable to human trafficking, sexual and physical abuse, and other forms of exploitation.

Trans women in immigrant detention are especially vulnerable to abuse. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report found that in 28 cases in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015, more than half of trans women were detained alongside men, where many were sexually assaulted. Half of the women in detention were placed in solitary confinement, which is another form of abuse.

There are no statistics on how many LGBTQ people seek asylum in the U.S., but immigration lawyers estimate that the number is “at least in the hundreds,” the Times notes.

Still, it’s clear that arrival in the U.S. is no guarantee of safety. You can read the full report here.


The Noble Renard

Activists have demanded that the government avoid holding trans women and other L.G.B.T. migrants in detention altogether. Just over half of trans people are held at the specialized unit at the Cibola center, the ICE spokeswoman said, whereas the dozens spread across other facilities are “housed in units at the facility based on their physical gender.”

Ugh. I’m unfortunately reminded that ICE did have a trans-only detention center, but activists successfully got it shut down on the grounds that LGBT migrants shouldn’t be detained altogether. The end result... more trans migrants detained with cis people not of their gender. Because obviously ICE wasn’t going to just not detain trans migrants. One of the few times where I’ve strongly disagreed with an anti-ICE objective, even though I completely and totally support their cause and think they’re right. Just... the end result was arguably worse than the “success.”

And yeah, being an LGBT asylum-seeker is fucking hard. Right now, it’s especially hard for those individuals in Tijuana, because their “system” of processing asylum-seekers is, incredibly frustratingly, run entirely by an “informal” system of queues, which are tracked in notebooks maintained by asylum-seekers themselves. If you want to “legally” apply for asylum in Tijuana, you basically can’t actually just go up to the Port of Entry and ask for asylum (which is what is required by law). You have to basically put your name down in a notebook and get in the back of a weeks-long line, and then wait until your turn arrives. But since many of the asylum-seekers running the notebooks are anti-LGBT, lots of LGBT asylum-seekers are not even allowed to put their names in the list, basically forcing them to go somewhere else on the border (potentially very dangerous) or cross illegally.