Amy Lieberman has been covering the danger inherent in being a transgender woman for a few years now for women’s eNews. Most recently she has been in Mexico, delving into the consequences when a transwoman is deported back to Mexico.
Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be transgender. But as lawmakers try to change that, transgender women who are deported confront a social backlash that makes their homeland more fearful than ever.
If you pass inside, you will likely find yourself decrying the way Mexican transgender women are treated. But you should be aware that it is not all that much different than transwomen are treated in the US.
It was the second time that Deborah Alvarez was deported that caused her to stay in Ciudad Juarez for awhile. She had been arrested in the US for prostitution solicitation. She wanted to head back to where she felt safe immediately, but knew that she would very likely end up in an immigration confinement facility, housed with a sea of men.
Debrah’s family, which had once treated her quite harshly, were natives of the Mexican border city, which she left in 1984, at the age of 13, for El Paso. She knew that her life would be not much different than it had been then.
In 2007 when she was back in Juarez, she had been shot by rubber bullets when a police unit of that time, called Milipol, raided her home because she was thought to be a transgender sex worker who dressed like a woman, which was illegal at the time. She ended up hospitalized.
Even though the unit no longer exists, most Mexican transwomen fled Juarez for other Mexican cities.
alvarez is now the head of a local organization promoting transwomen’s health. She regularly receives letters with slurs and threats. She does not go out in public by herself.
In 2000 when she was visiting the area from her home in Los Angeles, she was arrested for solicitation of prostitution in El Paso on outstanding warrants from her past. She spent 12 months in a city jail before being transferred to a detention center in Eden, TX. In the el Paso jail, she spent her year in solitary confinement. In the detention center she and six other transwomen were housed in the same room with 300 men. The women tried to protect each other from contant leers and taunts from other inmates and from the guards.
When she was deported at that time, she immediately returned to the US and ended up right back in the same facility.
Alvarez wishes to one day return to Los ANgeles, where she lived for 17 years.
My only goal when I first left was to flee, flee, flee from my family. Until now I still have a fear of being in Juarez and of being in Mexico.
She says her relationship with her parents and siblings has become much better.
Deported transgender Mexican nationals are not tracked among the nearly 650,000 deported undocumented immigrants (as reported in 2010). Nor does anyone track the transwomen who choose to leave the US after confinement in immigrant detention facilities.
The majority of detained transgender women are asylum seekers, and most of these cases–represented by a handful of pro-bono attorneys from private law firms, national organizations or attorneys they meet from basic, free legal education “Know Your Rights” presentations –result in victories, attorneys say.
But the problem is legal representation.
Eighty-five percent of detained immigrants in the United States did not have legal representation while in detention, according to the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. That was true for Alvarez and many other transgender women.
Many transgender folks in ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody don’t get access to the information they need to make informed decisions. On the contrary, ICE will encourage them to sign their own deportation stating that they’ll just sit in jail for months to gain if they don’t sign. If the person relents, gets deported and then comes back to the U.S. then they are no longer eligible for asylum.
–Cara Jobson, an asylum attorney in San Francisco
WeNews interviewed 10 immigration attorneys across the US, who said that it is getting harder for Mexican transgender immigrants to gain asylum or another form of legal protection that allows them to stay in the country with fewer benefits and no possibility of full citizenship.
What we do know is that Mexico has the second highest murder rate of transgender women…behind only Brazil.
One monitoring project, Letra S, of the national daily newspaper La Jornada, approximated 1,260 hate-crime killings, mostly of transgender people, between 1995 and 2006. A 2010 International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission report on the violations of LGBT persons in Mexico, often presented by American attorneys as part of their evidence during asylum cases, found that 76.4 percent of LGBT persons had been subjected to physical violence and 53.3 percent had been assaulted in public spaces between 1995 and 2007.
Mexico City now protects transgender people legally, granting the legal right to change name and gender after only a brief waiting period. Marriage equality exists in 3 of Mexico’s 32 states and same-sex couples can adopt in Mexico City.
That all sounds good, but…
Judges are increasingly seeing this as a signal that gay and transgender individuals enjoy a lot of rights and protections afforded by the Mexican government and that there is no basis for their fear in returning, which is not really true and very problematic.
–Munmeeth Soni, an attorney for the Public Law Center, Santa Ana, CA
Mexican civil liberties attorney Jaime Lopez Vela expounds upon the subject.
We are living in a period of homophobic and transphobic reaction to the times. Each time that we achieve something, each time we get a new law, there is increased aggression toward the LGBTQ community.
–Jaime Lopez Vela
There has been a delay between the enactment of new laws and their effect on people’s lives.
Those changes haven’t taken effect on the ground level and there is still a great deal of persecution that transgender people experience by the military and police.
–Talia Inlender, a staff attorney with the Los Angeles pro-bono law firm Public Counsel
The majority of the LGBTQ hate-crime victims in Mexico are transgender women, says Jorge Mercado Mondragon, a sociology professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City. He links that trend–documented only in Mexican newspapers and often described as crimes of passion–to transgender women’s physical visibility. Murders of transgender people often go unchecked by police, who do not match transgender women’s physical appearance and names to their state-issued photo identification cards.
If you don’t pass 100%, you likely will be attacked. And the attacks tend to be ultra-vicious.
The violence against trans people is very ugly; people being stripped nude, tortured, mutilated, beheaded. The people who are doing this are not narcos [drug traffickers], but what they do replicates the way that the narcos will treat people.
–Jorge Mercado Mondragon
Deported Mexicans face a stigma returning home with no job or money. But they at least usually have a home to go to. Not so with transgender women.
People who are gay and transgender may not have a home to go back to. This [transgender] population moves around and typically permanently keeps going, looking for work where they can find it in hotels in Cancun, in Acapulco, in hair salons, in whatever area of service.
–Rene Leyva, a lead researcher with Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health
Usually the “service” is in a bar or on the street. Applying for jobs in Mexico hits the same sort of snag it does in the US.
The interviews go well, but then at the end someone will realize that my name is not legally my name yet, and then they do not see me as a girl, all of a sudden, and I do not get the job.
–Daniela Nigeli, who has attempted to move to Mexico City from a small town in Jalisco
Antonella Bocanos Flores has been presenting as a girl since she was 3 years old, after her mother recognized that she was anything but a little boy.
Even with the support of her mother, poverty forced Bocanos to enter sex work full time when she was 18. She has been attacked on the job in Puebla, a city two hours outside of Mexico City, several times. One client robbed her and stabbed her more than 30 times. She says she called the police, but when they arrived they failed to respond to her near-fatal wounds.
No trans girl can find work in Juarez. If you don’t cut hair, you do sex work. So I did sex work for many years. Now I have my own organization. But it has been very difficult to arrive at where we are now.
Almost universally these transgender women want to come to the US, even the ones who have already been deported once or twice. And the truly sad thing is that job opportunities aren’t that much different here.
Next up: Jobs for transpeople in America
…is that nobody is going to care about what happens to transwomen who are sent back to Mexico if they don’t care about the lives of transwomen in this country.
And let’s face it…our lives are not accorded much value in this country.