A splinter group of the massive migrant caravan heading to the U.S. southern border has reached the city of Tijuana and members have peacefully assembled at an Airbnb in the swank coastal neighborhood of Playas de Tijuana. Having joined the caravan to leave behind the hostile climate of their nations, roughly 80 Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran members of the LGTBQ community banded together and struck out on their own for America. Why would such a small group leave the safety of the caravan? They were persecuted for non-conformity of social and religious norms.
Several humanitarian organizations are responsible for protecting the splinter group and assisting the trek across Mexico. Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) is the non-profit behind funding the buses to take the small group to Tijuana, and they are unapologetic for their assistance, reminding that these “migrants are highly vulnerable.”
Hey @FoxNews, we are the mysterious "anonymous" group who paid for the bus of LGBTQ migrants to get to Tijuana.
— 𝐑𝐀𝐈𝐂𝐄𝐒 (@RAICESTEXAS) November 13, 2018
Central American LGBTQ people are, according to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), desperately in need of asylum. A 2015 IACHR report reinforces RAICES’ urgency to move these 80 asylum seekers swiftly to the U.S. border as statistics show violence has elevated to extreme levels of stoning, rape, torture, and murder of LGBTQ people in Latin American nations.
Prioritizing Asylum Seekers
Migrants in the caravan heading to the southern U.S. border are said to be fleeing gang violence, poverty, and, in some countries, political violence. And the lowest rungs on the ladder, within the governments and social structure of Central American countries, are the LGBTQ.
Regardless of the administration’s policies regarding unchecked migration, these 80 people are the very epitome of a persecuted class. The Refugee Act of 1980, incorporated into immigration law by Congress, considers foreign nationals at the border who meet the definition of persecuted status, “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” to be eligible. Simply stated, they have nowhere to turn but the U.S.
The caravan is predominantly comprised of practicing Catholics. Although LGBTQ education has gained ground in Latin American countries, none are yet as open to the demographic as the United States. The group were treated as poorly by other migrants as they has been at home, which is precisely why humanitarian organizations helped push the members of that community to the front of the line and why it was necessary to remove them from the caravan itself. They weren’t welcomed. They weren’t safe.
23-year-old Erick Dubon, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, told reporters, “People wouldn’t let us into trucks, they made us get in the back of the line for showers, they would call us ugly names.” Dubon, a gay man, describes being forced into prostitution by poverty, which exacerbated the danger to his life from the violent hatred of straight Central American males.
Nelsi Teresa Ponce, a 27-year-old law student from Comayagua, Honduras, spoke with the San Diego Tribune: “Going back would put me at risk. Back there, we are not welcome, we could not leave our houses.”
Honduran migrant Cesar Mejia spoke with reporters as well. “We want to do things in order, in the right way,” he said, referring to the plan to cross at Otay Mesa and San Ysidro – both legal ports of entry where their requests can be processed. But at best, the LGBTQ asylum seekers will likely reside in limbo until the end of the year, and that might prove dicey.
Amidst claims of ugly verbal taunts and threats, Tijuana residents are making unhappy and somewhat unhealthy comments toward the splinter group. Neighbors within the suburb of Playas de Tijuana were not aware that a house had been rented for members of the group, and some are afraid that migrants will bring violence and crime to their neighborhood.
One outspoken resident of Playas de Tijuana, Patricia Elena Juarez Hernandez, president of the Neighborhood Association, commented at the migrant held press conference:
“We don’t have anything against these people. They are free to go where they want, but why didn’t anyone let us know? I don’t even know what kind of people have arrived. I’m not talking about discriminating against them because they came from a different country. Here, what we’re asking for is order.”
Tensions are building, and one heated exchange between a local resident and a member Diversidad Sin Fronteras, emphasizes the need to process the LGBTQ migrants swiftly:
“We aren’t safe here. There could be someone within your group that could hurt us,” accused one resident. The tart reply from Diversidad Sin Fronteras’ organizer, “How are we supposed to know that someone among you won’t hurt us?”
But Tijuana residents are also concerned about the economic impact of housing LGBTQ migrants for an extended stay. Tijuana en Contra de la Caravana Migrante (Tijuana Against the Migrant Caravan) is a Facebook Group quickly formed to call for the immediate deportation of caravan members who have no legal status in Mexico, “to avoid their causing a collapse of our region.”
Si Se Puede (Yes, We Can)
The task of providing food, shelter, and security is being thrust upon a group of Mexican citizens, who are woefully unapologetic about their desire for these 80 migrants to be removed from their city. By all accounts, and with legal help from RAICES, these asylum seekers are legally proceeding through the system, carrying personal documents and identification papers, and waving their rainbow flags. They possess no other country’s flag, have not railed against the U.S. government, and are ready to become Americans.
Yet they are in extreme danger, and the U.S. and President Trump can and should process these 80 hopefuls and hold them as a model of how to migrate into our country.
As Leidi Mejia, a young woman whose partner was murdered for being gay, explained, “I know it won’t be easy, but it doesn’t matter how long we must wait. I want to live in a country where laws are respected, and where one can live in peace and tranquility.”
We must live up to those highest of standards.