JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Alejandra Gomez, a transgender woman, left her native Honduras a few months ago, fleeing discrimination and threats of violence.
“That is the reason I am here,” Gomez said Thursday at the doorstep of a Juarez shelter for vulnerable migrants. “Even here in Juarez, I have been discriminated while looking for work. I have been attacked … they even tried to kill me.”
Gomez and a dozen other transgender migrants are holding up at Respetrans, a converted hotel building overlooking the Rio Grande and Downtown El Paso that now serves as a shelter for vulnerable migrants.
Their hope is to file asylum claims as soon as the Biden administration lifts Title 42 on May 23 or that their appointments in federal immigration court are speeded up. The public health order for two years has allowed American border agents to immediately expel newly arrived migrants and close U.S. ports of entry to asylum-seekers.
“We’ve seen an increase since January in the arrival of LGBT migrants. Some of them are already being called (to U.S. immigration court) in groups of five or six,” said Grecia Herrera, director of the Respettrans shelter.
The career nurse and community activist said a large group of LGBT migrants is at the Mexico-Guatemala border, waiting for travel permits to get to Juarez and prepared to present an asylum case in the United States.
One common theme brought up by transgender migrants is the fear of violence and persecution, not only in their countries but also in Mexico. The women see the United States as the only option to live a life free of fear and discrimination.
“There is no work (here) for transgender people. We are often threatened by homophobic people,” said Estela, another transgender migrant from Central America.
More than 1.3 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender migrants live in the United States, according to the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law. Three-percent of all migrants in the U.S. identify as LGBT, according to the institution.
At the shelter, the women spend their days keeping the building clean, washing clothes, changing linens, and helping with shores like cooking. Even when they don’t stray far from their building in North Juarez, the women dedicate time to their appearance. Bringing out the inner self that their societies have forced them to repress for many years is an important part of their well-being, one of the migrants said.
Herrera, who opened the first transgender migrant shelter at a different location in Juarez in 2019, said the building for the past year has also housed families and single adults from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. She said the women have contact with immigration advocates in El Paso, Texas, who will guide them through their asylum process.
The Juarez nurse said more than 3,000 migrants have stayed at her shelters in the past three year, most of them being LGBT persons fleeing their communities – and in some cases their own families – in Central America.