He Dismantled the Previous System and the Consequences are Deadly
As the Trump administration touts its immigration policies as an “unprecedented achievement,” new reports from The Intercept, Insider, and Mother Jones remind us of the life-threatening consequences of Trump and Stephen Miller’s policies.
HEYDI LIZBETH GARCÍA GIRÓN is haunted by the memory of the day her partner tried to kill her.
“I can’t sleep at night because when I close my eyes, I see the image of him over me with a machete,” said García Girón, in an interview at the office of a women’s rights organization in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in June.
…As she stood over the stove, a scream from her daughter alerted her to the danger looming behind her. Her partner raised a machete, bringing it down with full force toward García Girón’s head. She turned quickly to avoid the fatal strike, but he struck her in the neck. He slashed her three more times before she escaped when her son came back from the store just in time. At the hospital, doctors told García Girón that her recovery was a miracle.
García Girón’s partner has been behind bars since November 2018, but she fears the day he could be set free. He has managed to get ahold of a phone in prison and continues to call her, repeatedly threatening to finish what he started.
…García Girón now plans to go to the United States to seek asylum, the only place she believes she can find safety for herself and her family. She joins a soaring number of Honduran women fleeing due to high rates of gender-based violence along with near-total impunity for such crimes. These women, who often arrive at the southern border of the U.S. with children in tow, face an increasingly restrictive system intent on denying their legal right to seek asylum.
THANKS TO A new rule, migrants who arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico without having sought asylum in one of the countries they passed through are now ineligible for asylum in the U.S. The Trump administration introduced the rule in July, but an injunction from a federal judge prevented it from being implemented until last month, when the Supreme Court lifted the injunction while litigation is ongoing. The result is effectively an asylum ban for most Central Americans and many others. People like García Girón can still petition to stay in the U.S. under the Convention Against Torture, but that process has a higher burden of proof and does not provide a pathway to citizenship. And they may well have to wait for a long time in dangerous border cities before they even get a chance to see a judge, joining nearly 50,000 people who have been returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” protocols.
“It’s putting up more roadblocks to them seeking protection in the United States,” said Lily Axelrod, an immigration lawyer who represents asylum-seekers, including many women from Central America. Axelrod called the asylum ban a violation of international legal obligations to protect refugees. She said the administration “is not only turning its back, but is punishing people for asserting their belief that they deserve to be free from gender-based violence and envision a life where women are free and equal.”
Yolanda Ramîrez lives near the southern coast of El Salvador in the small city of San Luis Talpa, where she says she is the only trans woman left.
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) have attempted to kill her for being transgender, and so she is trying to escape death by asking for asylum in the United States. She is convinced that there is no life left for her in El Salvador.
Yolanda (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) is one of 46,800 Salvadorans who applied for asylum in another country in 2018, according to the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). According to a report from the International Crisis Group, 94% of El Salvador’s municipalities have gang activity. Gang violence, easy access to guns, and corruption have made El Salvador the murder capital of the world.
Despite that, on September 20th, the Salvadoran government signed an agreement with the Trump administration designating it a “safe third country,” a term used by experts to describe countries that are willing to receive the asylum requests the United States does not want. In keeping with this decision, El Salvador’s traveling warnings were downgraded this week from a level three (reconsider traveling) to a level two (exercise increased caution) warning.
…The transgender population’s situation is especially precarious because transgender people are targeted by both gangs and police. The culture of machismo is ingrained in Salvadoran culture, and being gay is often reason enough to be killed.
At the foot of a bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, roughly 1,000 migrants are sleeping in tents in a squalid, makeshift refugee camp. On Thursday, Mayela, the only trans women at the encampment, told me she feared for her life as she waited for her December court date across the Rio Grande in Brownsville, Texas. “I don’t want to become another statistic,” she said over WhatsApp. “Another one who showed up dead.”
When the Department of Homeland Security started forcing asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico earlier this year, the department said it would exempt members of “vulnerable populations” on a case-by-case basis. In practice, getting out of the Migrant Protection Protocols, the policy’s official name, has proved almost impossible. Among the more than 50,000 people who have been forced back under MPP—or Remain in Mexico, as it’s often called—are pregnant women and members of the LGBTQ community. Reuters reported this summer that only about 1 percent of migrants subjected to the policy had been able to get out of it to fight their cases from within the United States.
…Along with Mayela, I spoke last week with two other LGBTQ women stuck in Matamoros. A lesbian from Honduras, who asked to remain anonymous, sent a photo of a split lip that came from being hit in the face by an unknown assailant. Mari, a Cuban asylum seeker, said two men had threatened her and her partner, Dany, when they went to buy cigarettes. One of the men also grabbed her during the altercation, Mari said. They also faced discrimination from fellow asylum seekers. When the Cuban couple bathed in the Rio Grande, people moved away from them, and they kept their tent apart from the heterosexual migrants.
…Mayela had similar experiences to the other LGBTQ women in Matamoros. In late September, a woman came to her tent and threatened to cut out her guts with a knife, according to a complaint Mayela submitted to the Mexican government. In the line for food at the camp, fellow migrants told her she had to wait in the men’s line and sometimes used slurs. Mayela told me that waiting in the United States—even if it meant being in a detention center—would be “a thousand times better” than the constant fear of being killed in Matamoros.
According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “These are the real-life consequences of Trump and Miller’s policies of cutting aid to Central America, gutting asylum, truncating and eliminating due process, and forcing refugees into Northern Mexico. A true ‘achievement’ for the administration is apparently defined by Trump and Miller as death, fear, and a human rights catastrophe at our border. For Trump, Stephen Miller and DHS, cruelty is the point. For the majority of the American people, fairness, decency, protecting the vulnerable and upholding our laws and values are the point. Only a change in administrations will give fairness and decency a chance.”