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Transgender man flees Honduras, seeks protection in U.S.

By Michael K. Lavers

A transgender man who the Washington Blade interviewed in Honduras last summer is now seeking refuge in the U.S.

Jerlín in a video message he sent to the Blade on Thursday from Piedras Negras, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, said he and a small group of migrants left Honduras on Jan. 14.

Jerlín said police at the Guatemala-Honduras border “assaulted us, robbed us and took everything that we had brought with us.” Jerlín told the Blade that people in Guatemala did not help him and the other migrants with whom he was traveling because they were afraid of gangs and corrupt police officers.

“Passing through Guatemala was like passing through hell,” said Jerlín.

Jerlín said some of the migrants in the group who were from his community in Honduras later disappeared. Jerlín also told the Blade that people who he encountered demanded sex for food and water.

“It was also very hard crossing Mexico,” he said.

Jerlín said he arrived in Piedras Negras on Jan. 24.

He told the Blade that he had been sleeping along the riverbank and outside Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration office in Piedras Negras in the cold and the rain in the hopes he will receive a humanitarian visa. (The temperature in the city on Thursday was near freezing and Jerlín was wearing a coat, thick gloves and a hat in the video he sent to the Blade.)

“You cannot walk here because the drug cartels will kidnap you,” he said.

Jerlín on Wednesday sought to enter the U.S., but U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials sent him back to Mexico under Title 42, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention rule that has closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Jerlín is now living in a temporary migrant shelter the Transgender Law Center and Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán, a South Texas-based attorney who is also a human rights law and policy expert, helped him find, but it is unclear how long he can stay there.

The State Department currently urges American citizens to reconsider traveling to Coahuila state in which Piedras Negras is located because of “crime and kidnapping.”

Anti-LGBTQ violence commonplace in Honduras

Jerlín was a bus driver in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ commercial capital, until gang members shot him three times in 2012 because he couldn’t pay the extortion money from which they demanded from him each month. Jerlín, his partner and their daughter subsequently fled to La Ceiba, a city on Honduras’ Caribbean coast that is about three hours east of San Pedro Sula.

Jerlín migrated to Mexico in January 2019, but returned to Honduras less than a month later because his partner was hospitalized. The couple and their daughter migrated to Mexico a year later and applied for a Mexican humanitarian visa.

Jerlín last July during an interview at the offices of Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña (Oprouce), a La Ceiba-based advocacy group, said he and his family were living in a migrant detention center in Tapachula, a city in southern Mexico that is roughly 20 miles from the country’s border with Guatemala. Jerlín said they decided to return to Honduras in May 2020 because they did not want their daughter to further endure the “inhumane” conditions in which they were living.

Someone shot at their house on July 10, 2020.

“Sometimes I think that it’s better that they kill you in your home country and not here where nobody knows you or feels compassion for anyone,” Jerlín told the Blade from Piedras Negras.

Jerlín fled Honduras four days after Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist, was murdered outside her home in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among the dignitaries who attended Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s inauguration on Jan. 27.

Harris and other White House officials have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is among the “root causes” of migration from Honduras and surrounding countries. The Biden administration has also told migrants not to travel to the U.S.

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