The First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan

With banners and heads held high, sixteen transgender and gay migrants from Central America and Mexico marched through Nogales, Sonora, and presented themselves at the border to seek asylum and lives free of persecution and violence.

It was not the start of their journeys, but the two miles traversed between the KBI comedor and the DeConcini Port of Entry represented a major milestone for 12 transgender women and 4 gay men seeking asylum in the U.S., and perhaps marks a beginning of broader awareness about the persecution faced by LGBTQ migrants in their countries of origin. Held on Thursday, August 10, the caravan included the migrants and their many supporters, with rallies held on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border.

Subject to mistreatment from their families, local police, and tribal governments as well as gang violence, kidnappings, and forced prostitution, these courageous individuals met en route and formed a bond of solidarity as they crossed the length of Mexico. Even so, throughout Mexico, where crimes against migrants are rampant, they suffered further discrimination and abuses. Of the migrants’ spirited mood as they led the caravan, KBI board member Larry Hanelin, who took photos that day, observed, “You wonder how they’ve survived the brutality they’ve experienced and can still embrace hope. Their resilience is remarkable.”

Upon their arrival in Nogales, Sonora on July 25, the sixteen received safe haven and direct aid from the KBI, and began preparing their asylum cases with the help of lawyers from Keep Tucson Together, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Transgender Law Center collaborating with other human rights and LGBTQ rights organizations. They yearn to make a home in a safer place than where they came from. Even with an increase in hate crimes this past year, the U.S. can offer greater security in large part due to its vast network of established LGBTQ communities and active legal and humanitarian organizations that defend their rights. They also hope to be released from detention on humanitarian parole as they await court dates, so they can be surrounded by sympathetic communities rather than endure the isolation of a detention facility.

At the end of the march, with friends and supporters around them and their application folders ready, the migrants presented themselves at the port of entry; U.S. Customs and Border Patrol took them into custody at noon. Now, fifteen of them are being detained in New Mexico, while one has been released under an alternative-to-parole program. With a firm belief in everyone’s right to a life free of violence, the KBI and its partner organizations continue their support and advocacy, and await further news about the status of these brave asylum seekers and their cases.

Transgender and gay asylum seekers march in the First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan. Nogales, Sonora, August 10, 2017.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

A contemplative moment for one of the organizers of the First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan. Nogales, Sonora, August 10, 2017.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

One of the attorneys representing gay and transgender asylum seekers who hope for a life free of violence. DeConcini Port of Entry, August 10, 2017. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

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