'It Shouldn't Be This Hard': LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers Face More Risks When Told To Remain In Mexico | Texas Public Radio

'It Shouldn't Be This Hard': LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers Face More Risks When Told To Remain In Mexico

Oct 7, 2019

The Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program forces asylum seekers who reach the southern border to wait in Mexico until their court date in the U.S. This has become an especially dangerous limbo for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, who have reported violence and harassment against them.


On Saturday in Matamoros, a group of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers gathered under a cluster of trees near the Rio Grande. It’s a big day for one of them — a trans woman named Mayela.

Mayela chose to only share her first name with TPR, fearing she could be denied asylum.

Dani Marrero Hi works with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is helping Mayela. She said their plan includes asking Customs and Border Protection to give Mayela a non-refoulement interview.

“That way she can be taken out of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols program (so) she can pursue her asylum claim inside the United States,” Marrero Hi said.

Mayela is from El Salvador where she said she was being extorted, receiving threats and feared for her life. She’s waited months in Mexico. 

Mayela gathers her belongings from a tent before going into the U.S.
Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio

One of the people she’s grown close with told Mayela to be strong and to make sure she doesn’t cry. She said to be firm because if not, it could mean Mayela would be sent back to Mexico. Her friends hugged her and said their goodbyes.

Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney, waited for Mayela and Dani Marreo Hi near the International Bridge. 

Goodwin told Mayela she’s not sure how the day will play out, but she’ll be tough with U.S. officials. 

The trio walked to the middle of the bridge dividing the U.S. and Mexico. Goodwin asked a CBP agent if she can speak with a supervisor. Goodwin disappeared with the agent onto the U.S. side.

After a few minutes, she was back and told Mayela the good news: She’s been granted an interview. That will determine if she’s allowed to wait out her asylum claim in the U.S. 

Goodwin and Marrero Hi asked Mayela to please call them later in the day — or the next day — whenever immigration officials decide what they’re going to do with her. Mayela followed CBP officers to the U.S. side of the bridge.

Now it’s a waiting game, and both Goodwin and Marrero Hi are on standby. 

On Sunday morning they got a call saying Mayela will be allowed to stay in the U.S.

At the bus station in Brownsville, Mayela is grateful for the news. She said she’ll now be able to wake up without fear of persecution. 

Mayela is now on her way to Houston and will stay with a relative until her next immigration court date later this year. Dani Marrero Hi hugged her and said their work isn’t over yet.

Dani Marrero Hi hugs Mayela before she leaves for the U.S.
Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio

“Mayela is one case. And while this is a huge victory, at the same time it took six attorneys, a hundred activists, a petition, all these reports — and we don’t have enough resources to do this for everybody,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this hard.” 

One of those attorneys, Jodi Goodwin, said getting Mayela around the Remain in Mexico program attracted less pushback than other clients she’s worked with.

“I think it’s because they’re (CBP) getting used to the fact that there are attorneys who are going to be watching what’s going on,” Goodwin said. “Seeing what’s happening, and taking action, to be able to hold CBP accountable for what they’re doing with this program.”

When reached by text, Mayela’s friends — the other LGBTQ+ asylum seekers waiting back in Mexico — were thrilled to hear she can stay in the U.S. Now, they’re hoping the same thing will happen to them.

Democratic Presidential candidate Julián Castro is traveling to Matamoros on Monday to meet the group. They hope the presidential hopeful will have a plan to get them and other asylum seekers into the U.S.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos