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Gay asylum seeker in Mexico receives date to enter U.S.

By Michel K. Lavers, Washignton Blade

MATAMOROS, Mexico — A gay man from Guatemala who the Trump administration forced to pursue his asylum case in Mexico is scheduled to enter the U.S. on April 30.

Estuardo Cifuentes in June 2019 asked for asylum in the U.S. because of the anti-gay persecution he suffered in his country of origin.

Cifuentes on Saturday told the Blade during an interview at the offices of Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in Matamoros, a Mexican border city across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, that he was one of the first asylum seekers in Matamoros enrolled in its Migrant Protection Protocols program, which is also known as the “remain in Mexico” program.

Many of the hundreds of people who were living in a camp near the Gateway International Bridge that connects Matamoros and Brownsville on Saturday have asked for asylum in the U.S., but they were forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under MPP.

The Biden administration in January suspended enrollment in the program.

The U.S. since last week has allowed asylum seekers in Matamoros with active MPP cases to enter the country. Cifuentes said the U.N. Refugee Agency called him on Friday and told him when he could come to the U.S.

“At the very least I have a date,” he said. “But it is difficult to know there are two more months … two more months in Matamoros.”

Cifuentes told the Blade in a previous interview that Resource Center Matamoros and other organizations in the U.S. helped him find housing and legal assistance for his asylum case. Cifuentes also runs Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program that helps LGBTQ asylum seekers in Matamoros.

Rainbow Bridge runs a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants to which Cifuentes brought the Blade on Saturday. Rainbow Bridge also works with Resource Center Matamoros to provide LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants access to health care providers and lawyers who can help them with their cases.

Cifuentes told the Blade that LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants in Matamoros remain vulnerable to persecution and violence that includes members of the Gulf drug cartel who force transgender women into sex work. Cifuentes said kidnappings also take place in Matamoros, although there are not as many as in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities.

The State Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state in which is Matamoros because of “crime and kidnapping.”

“Organized crime activity — including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion and sexual assault — is common along the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria,” reads the advisory.

Ciudad Victoria is Tamaulipas’ capital city.

“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments. Heavily armed members of criminal groups often patrol areas of the state in marked and unmarked vehicles and operate with impunity particularly along the border region from Reynosa northwest to Nuevo Laredo,” adds the State Department advisory. “In these areas, local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to crime incidents.”

The land border between Mexico and the U.S. remains closed to nonessential travel because of the pandemic.

The Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, looking towards Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 26, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cifuentes had planned to live with an uncle in Las Vegas once he received asylum, but he now plans to stay in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

“I have people now,” Cifuentes told the Blade. “I now have a plan.”

Cifuentes conceded it will take time for the Biden administration to fully undo MPP and other aspects of its predecessor’s hardline immigration policies. Cifuentes nevertheless said he remains hopeful about his future in the U.S.

“I keep believing that it is doing its job,” he said, referring to President Biden and his administration. “I know that it is not easy.”

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