The Challenges Transgender Immigrants Seeking Asylum Face in the U.S.

As the executive director of Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement (TQLM), Jorge Gutiérrez aims to end violence that trans women face in and out of detention centers. Gutiérrez, is queer and an undocumented immigrant who helps advocate for issues important to the LGBTQ Latino community.

MORE: 10 Facts About the State of the Transgender Community in the U.S.

“In our experience working with Latina women from Mexico and Central America, it is because they are fleeing a violent transphobic community,” Gutiérrez says. “They are coming to us with the hope that the US is going to open (its) doors, and they can get the resources and support they need,” Gutiérrez told Remezcla.

But, many times, he says, these women end up in detention centers, where they deal with similar issues as they did back in their native countries.

This is what happened to a Guatemalan woman, known as S.A.C., who fled the violence in her country and Karolina López, who fled discrimination from Acapulco to seek asylum in the U.S., only to both face similar mistreatment in detention centers.

S.A.C. remained at Stewart Detention Center for nine months before gaining asylum. A SPLC press release reported that between 2007 and 2012, only six percent of detainees at Stewart had legal representation – a number far below the 37 percent representation rate of all immigrants in removal proceedings nationwide.

She knew the police could report her to the drug cartel themselves and one of her transgender friends had been killed by the cartel. She sought refuge in the U.S. after learning about anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people and the legalization of same sex marriage, she told Metro.

López was sent to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona in 2009, she was subjected to the same kind of abuse that forced her to flee Mexico. López says, “A gang raped me and wanted to mutilate my genitals, so I asked for political asylum in the United States.” Then while in the United States in 2009 she had her handbag stolen and “when I alerted the police they proceeded to arrest me,” López recounted. López still struggles with the aftermath from the abuse in the during her years in detention, “It was constant—verbal, physical, psychological,” she remembers.

Upon release from Eloy Detention Center, López told Yes Magazine, she became a core member of Mariposas Sin Fronteras (Butterflies Without Borders), its members raise public awareness, help address legal issues, and visit detention centers.

The solution to help transgender immigrants who face seek asylum is difficult because of the lack of representation, but also because of the lack of education, training, and accountability required. For example immigration lawyers who do not use the correct pronoun can affect the outcome of a case.

PLUS: 5 LGBTQ+ Latinxs Who Have Changed History

S.A.C. and López know the road to asylum in the U.S. for transgender undocumented people is a long and difficult one but they continue to be strong active members of society following their dreams.