TIJUANA, Mexico — A delegation of more than 30 LGBTQ elected officials, artists, athletes and activists traveled across the border Tuesday to shed light on the human face of the manufactured crisis at the border — in particular, the unique plight of LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana [Photos]. More than 80 counties around the world treat same-sex sexual activity as a crime, and LGBTQ people face violence and persecution in many more. Still, refugees face significant and increasing obstacles to seeking asylum in the United States, including discrimination and violence on their journey, at the border and in U.S. immigration detention facilities. Hosted by Equality California and This Is About Humanity, today’s delegation spurned new commitments and understanding — including a significant gift from Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent of TLC’s Nate and Jeremiah by Design to keep Casa Jardin de las Mariposas — one of the city’s only shelters serving the LGBTQ population — open and allow them to move into a new, safer facility.
“When people know better, they do better,” said Berkus and Brent. “We’re committed to shedding a light on the injustices that members of our community face and helping to uplift the stories of those who have been forgotten.”
Joining Equality California, This Is About Humanity, Berkus and Brent on the trip were California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the state’s first openly LGBTQ statewide elected official, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen, Los Angeles Board of Public Works President Kevin James, openly gay NBA star Jason Collins and others.
“In my country, it is a crime to be a trans woman, or a gay guy…a horror,” a transgender woman fleeing Honduras told the group, as she described horrific violence against her at the hands of her own family member and local gangs.
A lesbian woman who arrived in Tijuana less than 24 hours earlier described brutal rape and the knowledge that the gangs she escaped are still pursuing her. Another transgender woman and her family were tearful as they explained simple goals: safety and school for their kids, after losing their home and business in El Salvador at the hands of local gangs who targeted them for the woman’s gender identity. Two other transgender women who previously stayed at Casa Jardin de las Mariposas have since died — Roxana Hernández in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center and Camíla Díaz Cordova in El Salvador after being deported from the U.S.
The delegation was also hosted by Border Angels at El Bordo (The Border) and the shelter La Embajada del Migrante/Undocumented Café. In addition, the delegation visited Movimiento Juventud 2000 in the Zona Norte, where they handed out books and snacks to families and kids and joined a panel discussion that focused on the issue from both sides of the border featuring immigration lawyers from Immigration Defense, the San Diego LGBT Community Center and the ACLU San Diego. Chef Ruffo Ibarra, a partner with Jose Andres’ World Kitchen hosted the delegation and panelists at Oryx Capital, part of Tijuana’s growing food scene.
Reactions from delegation leaders:
Background: In nearly 80 countries around the world, same-sex sexual activity is a crime, and you can face the death penalty in nine, including the most recent addition of Brunei. Transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming people face unique and often heightened legal risks and persecution. And LGBTQ people face violence, persecution and lack of acceptance — even if not from the state itself — in many more countries.
Asylum law in the United States allows individuals to seek asylum due to persecution or well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In 1990, LGBTQ people were declared eligible for asylum under the “particular social group”designation. However, LGBTQ asylum seekers face a unique set of challenges when they arrive at the U.S. border, including a dramatically higher risk of violence due to homophobia and transphobia – both in their journeys to seek asylum and inside the camps and detention centers where they may find themselves along the way and at the border.
Why Tijuana: Tijuana shares a border and the busiest land port of entry in the world with the City of San Diego. LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers frequently stop in Tijuana before continuing to the U.S., and may be returned to Tijuana, pending the outcome of their cases, despite international law that provides for their ability to remain in the United States during that period. Highlighting the complications and severe impacts of current U.S. and Mexican immigration policies relating to the asylum process is key to raising awareness and helping shape policies in both countries.
Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org
The mission of This Is About Humanity is to provide humanitarian support to asylum seekers, migrants and refugees on both sides of the border. Created and led by Elsa Collins, Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade and Zoe Winkler-Reinis, TIAH helps educate others on being allies and advocates and through our proximate trips to the border and through the money we direct, we will help support those individuals with essentials and necessities of living; with access to legal services, mental wellness checkups; as well as fund projects at shelters in Tijuana to better the lives of those awaiting asylum or who are seeking shelter in Tijuana. We also provide for a range of projects including educational bus trips to the border, donations to legal services, construction projects at shelters as well as material goods for unaccompanied minors. www.thisisabouthumanity.com