By Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade
Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday acknowledged violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is among the factors that prompt Guatemalans to leave their country.
“There are also longstanding issues that are often called the ‘root causes’ of immigration,” said Harris during a virtual meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. “We are looking at the issue of poverty and the lack, therefore, of economic opportunities; the issue of extreme weather conditions and the lack of climate adaptation; as well as corruption and the lack of good governance; and violence against women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and Afro-descendants.”
The meeting took place a week after Aldo Dávila, the first openly gay man elected to the Guatemalan Congress, survived a robbery attempt in Guatemala City. Many LGBTQ Guatemalans with whom the Washington Blade has spoken say violence forced them to flee their country.
Estuardo Cifuentes in 2019 asked for asylum in the U.S. because of the anti-gay persecution he suffered in Guatemala.
Cifuentes and his partner ran a digital marketing and advertising business in Guatemala City for six years, but they closed it after gang members attacked them. Cifuentes said Guatemalan police officers also targeted him after they saw him kiss his partner.
“This forced us to leave Guatemala,” Cifuentes told the Washington Blade last fall.
The Trump administration forced Cifuentes to pursue his case in Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program.
Cifuentes — who ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city of Matamoros — arrived in the U.S. on March 3. Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers.
The White House has begun to reverse some of the previous administration’s hardline immigration policies. President Biden has charged Harris with the task of working with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to address the root causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle.
“We want to work with you to address both the acute causes as well as the root causes in a way that will bring hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay at home,” Harris told Giammattei.