By Teodoro Garcia, Intern, Refugee Protection
This week, the Biden administration announced the end of “Remain in Mexico,” a policy that forced migrants and asylum seekers to wait in danger in Mexico for immigration court hearings rather than allowing them to seek asylum within the United States. Ending this policy is a great step forward, but with Title 42 still in place, asylum seekers who are expelled or blocked in Mexico due to that policy, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, continue to face grave harms.
Lucy (a pseudonym), a transgender woman seeking asylum from Guatemala recounted to a colleague and me the dangers for LGBTQ asylum seekers trapped in Mexico due to Title 42. Despite the danger she faced, Lucy wanted us to tell us about a 19-year-old transgender asylum seeker from Honduras who DHS had expelled three times to Mexico where the young woman had been beaten and sexually assaulted. The men who attacked her hurled homophobic and transphobic epithets and violently slashed off her long hair. In Ciudad Acuña, where both women were sleeping in a public park because they could not seek asylum in the United States, local police harassed the young Honduran woman, made sexual advances on her, and prohibited her from using the women’s restroom in the park.
Title 42 is a part of U.S. law that allows federal health officials to impose certain restrictions to stop the introduction of communicable diseases. But during the pandemic, Title 42 has been used as a pretext by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to turn away migrants and asylum seekers without allowing them to apply for asylum or other protections.
Since DHS implemented Title 42 in March 2020, research by Human Rights First and surveys of asylum seekers by the organization Al Otro Lado confirm that LGBTQ asylum seekers from Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Russia, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other countries have been blocked or expelled under the policy. That Title 42 would block members of the LGBTQ community from asylum should not come as a surprise. A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that LGBTQ asylum seekers who underwent fear screenings, many after seeking asylum at or after crossing the border, between 2012 and 2017 originated from 84 countries.
Another recent study found that “[t]he pandemic restrictions that closed the border to asylum seekers (Title 42) prolonged the wait indefinitely along the dangerous northern Mexican border in shelters, tenements, and asylum seeker camps.” Members of the LGBTQ community returned to dangerous areas of the United States-Mexico border region face the full brunt of those dangers due to targeted violence, discrimination, and harassment by people who wish to do them harm because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Mexican government officers have targeted LGBTQ asylum seekers stranded in Mexico due to Title 42 for kidnappings, assaults, and deportation without access to asylum. Non-state actors, including cartels, have subjected them to rape, human trafficking, kidnapping, and other violent attacks.
Some recent incidents of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ asylum seekers and their family members trapped in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 include:
- Adolfo H. and Gerardo C., a gay couple escaping Cuba and El Salvador, respectively, are stuck in Ciudad Juárez due to Title 42 and unable to apply for asylum together. When the couple attempted to seek asylum in February 2022, U.S. officials reportedly told them that Adolfo could apply for asylum in the country because he is Cuban, but that his partner would be expelled and “gave them the option of being separated or of being expelled together,” according to a June 2022 report by Human Rights Watch.
- Blocked from seeking asylum due to Title 42, a transgender Honduran man and his girlfriend were assaulted in Mexico “by guys who targeted them for their queerness and gender expression.” In April 2022, the man told Human Rights Watch that the assailants asked the couple “who is the man and who is the woman?” and threatened that they were “going to teach them how to be women.”
- After being twice expelled by DHS to Ciudad Acuña under Title 42, an asylum-seeking Honduran lesbian woman and her cousin who was pregnant were, deported by Mexican immigration authorities to Honduras in June 2022. Another asylum seeker reported that she saw Coahuila state police pursue and seize the women as they were washing clothes in a nearby river and reported that the women were in hiding in Honduras after being deported.
- Calory Archange, who left Haiti along with his sister, who was fleeing violence targeted against her because she is lesbian, died in May 2022 in Mexico, where the family had been expelled by DHS under Title 42. Following a heart attack, Archange died after a hospital in Tapachula denied him life-saving medical care reportedly due to discrimination against Haitian migrants in Mexico.
Shelters and other humanitarian organizations often act as the only barrier to danger for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Mexico. But these groups face challenges when trying to assist them.
Estuardo Cifuentes from Lawyers for Good Government, who works with asylum seekers stranded by the Title 42 policy in Matamoros, Mexico, explained that Mexican officials often harass and deport migrants, targeting LGBTQ people in particular. He told Human Rights First “I personally have heard hundreds of cases… in fact, just recently a couple of gay men had their identification documents shredded by police, who then sent them to the INM [the Mexican National Migration Institute] to deport them.”
According to Cifuentes, and confirmed by human rights reports, some shelters and other migrant-assisting organizations in Mexico discriminate against and refuse to help members of the LGBTQ community. In addition, funding restrictions by the Mexican government for migrant shelters limit the support some shelters that cater to LGBTQ asylum seekers can receive. As a result, some LGBTQ asylum seekers stranded in Mexico are forced to conceal their identities to receive basic housing or risk becoming homeless and facing further danger.
In July 2022, 27 members of Congress issued a letter on the rights of and protections for LGBTQ people throughout the Americas, and called for an end to Title 42 and other policies “that turn away and expel asylum seekers, including LGBTQI+ migrants, to further [sic] human rights violations in Mexico.”
In May 2022, a court blocked the Biden administration from terminating the Title 42 policy while it considers a challenge to that decision. To prevent further harm to LGBTQ and other asylum seekers, the Biden administration should do all that it can to end Title 42’s use and restore access to asylum along the border.