By Michael K Lavers, Washington Blade
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 Washington 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.”
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.
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.
The Biden administration in January suspended enrollment in MPP.