March 10, 2021 at 10:25 am PST | by Michael K. Lavers
Two transgender asylum seekers with MPP cases enter U.S.
Natasha, right, is a transgender woman from Honduras. Janeth, second from right, is a trans woman from Cuba. Both asked for asylum in the U.S. and entered the country on March 10, 2021, after the Trump administration forced them to pursue their cases in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Two transgender women who were forced to pursue their asylum cases in Mexico entered the U.S. on Wednesday.

Janeth, a trans woman from Havana, flew from Cuba to Trinidad and Tobago on Jan. 26, 2019. She spent the next four months traveling through more than a dozen countries in Central and South America until she reached the U.S.-Mexico border on May 27, 2019.

Natasha, a trans woman from Honduras’ Olancho department, arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, on Oct. 12, 2019.

The Blade interviewed Natasha and Janeth on Feb. 27 at a Matamoros shelter that Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create. Natasha and Janeth both said they asked for asylum in the U.S. because of persecution they suffered in their home countries due to their gender identity.

“Discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, police abuse, police persecution and all these aggressions that are directed towards my community are the reasons that force us to leave,” said Janeth. “They almost expel us.”

Janeth is a transgender woman from Cuba who has asked for asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Natasha told the Blade she left Honduras because there is “a lot of discrimination against us.”

“I left because I want to be a free person, I want to be myself, to be who I am … to feel liberated,” she said.

Natasha is a transgender woman from Honduras who has asked for asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Violence based on gender identity remains commonplace in Honduras.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, over the last decade has spearheaded LGBTQ-specific issues on the Communist island. Mariela Castro’s supporters, among other things, note Cuba offers free sex-reassignment surgery under its health care system.

Independent activists with whom the Blade has spoken say trans Cubans continue to face persecution and harassment, especially if they publicly criticize Mariela Castro and/or the Cuban government.

Biden suspended MPP enrollments in January

Janeth and Natasha are among the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who the Trump administration forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program it implemented in June 2019.

A State Department advisory urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state in which Matamoros is located because of “crime and kidnapping” and “organized crime activity” that includes “gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion and sexual assault.” Sources in Matamoros and in other Mexican border cities with whom the Blade has spoken say drug cartels in these areas also target trans women for human trafficking and force them into sex work.

“[Mexico] is a racist, xenophobic, transphobic country with a lot of aggression, and it is worse in the state of Tamaulipas,” Janeth told the Blade.

Natasha had lived in a migrant camp near the Gateway International Bridge over the Rio Grande that connects Matamoros and Brownsville for 11 months until she moved into the Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers shelter last November. Janeth moved into the facility at around the same time.

Hundreds of people were still living in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, when the Washington Blade visited it on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden administration in January suspended enrollment in MPP.

The first asylum seekers with active MPP cases arrived in Brownsville on Feb. 25. Estuardo Cifuentes, a gay asylum seeker from Guatemala who ran the Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers shelter, lived in Matamoros for 19 months under MPP until he entered the U.S. on March 3.

Estuardo Cifuentes outside a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, on March 3, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes)

Janeth and Natasha did not know when they would be able to enter the U.S. when they spoke with the Blade in Matamoros. Cifuentes said a U.N. Refugee Agency representative called them on Tuesday and told them when they could cross the border.  

“We can’t live in our countries and that’s why we entered the United States, to ask for refuge, and they sent us here to Mexico,” Natasha told the Blade. “We are not here in Mexico because we want to (be here.) We are here because they sent us to Mexico.”

“I will have been here for 18 months,” she added.

Janeth told the Blade she plans to live with her family in Miami and pursue her case from there.

Natasha also has family in the U.S. She specifically thanked Cindy Candia, the former president of a PFLAG chapter in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley who volunteers with Angry Tias and Abuelas, a local group that assists asylum seekers and migrants, for her support.

“Cindy is a great person,” said Natasha.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. Follow Michael

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