The pleas of immigration attorneys such as Nicole Ramos and organizations such as GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) seem to have secured positive movement for transgender women seeking asylum who’ve been stuck on the Mexican border and become victims of violent attacks.
“The eleven women and LGBT youth ultimately were able to process later this week,” immigration attorney Nicole Ramos told the Los Angeles Blade late Friday. “It was a final group of 17, which included five unaccompanied minors. They are detained and the adults are awaiting the credible fear interview of the interview process. ” Ramos, who is based in Tijuana, Mexico, says she is unable to provide more information at this time.
Last Thursday, GLAD issued a strong statement condemning the violent attacks against the transgender women who are seeking entry into the United States and urged U.S. Border Patrol agents to allow them the opportunity to plead their case for asylum. The loosely organized caravan to which they belong is spread from Tijuana to San Ysidro, a district of San Diego that straddles the Mexican border.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that about two dozen transgender women—who arrived in Tijuana after a long and difficult journey through Mexico—claimed they have been targeted, often violently, “wherever they go.” On Monday, the day after the story appeared, the shelter in which they were housed was set on fire. Advocates claim the building was targeted because trans immigrants were staying there.
Tammy Lin, an attorney who chairs the San Diego Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), told the Los Angeles Blade that the transgender women who have sought asylum will likely be held by Border Protection agents until they are interviewed. Then, they may or may not be eligible to be released into the community–usually after paying a bond that averages $5,000 to $10,000 but can be as high as $20,000.
In an interview taped Friday for airing tomorrow on Morning Edition, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told NPR that immigrants from Mexico and Central America “don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills.” Kelly’s comments are tame compared with positions expressed by President Trump and Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions–who, today, indicated he may “invoke a rarely used power of his office” to deny asylum for victims of domestic violence.
Adding to the challenges unique to this political climate, asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are turned down 75 percent of the time, according to an analysis conducted by Truthdig. These countries are especially inhospitable for transgender people, a fact that asylum seekers and the attorneys who represent them hope will strengthen their cases.
On April 29, Pasquale Lombardo, attorney and executive board member of the National Lawyers Guild, was joined by a couple dozen lawyers who met with Central American immigrants to assess the strength of their asylum claims. He told the L.A. Blade that the immigrants were subsequently turned away by agents who said they were “at capacity.”
Immigrant attorney Nicole Ramos, who worked closely with the transgender immigrants who have sought asylum in San Ysidro, posted a moving video on which she is flanked by transgender asylum seekers. She criticizes Border Patrol agents for failing to uphold Title 8 Section 1225 of the US Code, which entitles immigrants who fear for their lives to interview with an asylum officer.
One Salvadorian transgender immigrant told the San Diego Tribune that 15 of her transgender friends were killed last year in her native country. Murder attempts followed many who survived the long journey to the United States, where asylum seekers must pass a “credible fear” interview at a detention facility.
The treatment of transgender asylum seekers by US Border Patrol was addressed by GLAD, which called for agents to “ensure their safety and dignified treatment while their applications are processed.”
Meanwhile, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced a bill that would apply more broadly to immigrants–and perhaps also to other people of color–in their interactions with immigration agents. Her proposed Department of Homeland Security Accountability and Transparency Act would require agents to document every time in which they stop, question, search, or interrogate people. Along with co-sponsoring Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Gillibrand hopes to bring more accountability into the process.
Lin says if Gillibrand can get this passed, it would help immigration lawyers with their cases. And even if the measure doesn’t pass, it presents an opportunity to make the public more aware of potential abuses against immigrants committed by law enforcement, especially in areas close to the border.
“The fact that she’s put it out there and into the media makes folks aware that this might be an issue,” Lin says.