El Salvador is not a “safe country” for the LGBTI community

By Larry Ladutke, New Jersey Legislative Coordinator & El Salvador Country Specialist

This year, the U.S. government tried to deport transgender activist Alejandra Barrera to El Salvador, and could try again as she pursues her asylum claim. Yet in just the past month, the murders of three transgender women clearly demonstrate that El Salvador is not safe for members of the LGBTI community.

Repeated physical attacks and sexual assaults by both gang members and soldiers forced Alejandra to flee El Salvador and seek asylum in the U.S. in 2017. As she pursued her asylum claim on account of her persecution as a member of an identified social group , the U.S. government held her in the Cibola County Correctional Facility for twenty months. The authorities labeled Alejandra a “flight risk” and repeatedly denied her parole despite the fact that she had a niece who had already received asylum in the U.S. Her health worsened while in the detention facility, which did not provide proper medical attention. Alejandra was at risk of imminent deportation, but pressure from activists across the U.S. and around the world led to her release on parole on September 6, 2019. Now freed, Alejandra, as well as her lawyers and organizations such as Amnesty International and the Translatin@ Coalition continue to fight for the rights and safety of the transgender community.

Alejandra (left) speaking on the rights and safety of the transgender community at Amnesty International’s Northeast Regional Conference in Rhode Island, alongside Alma Rosa (right) with the TransLatin@ Coalition. © David Rendell

Recent horrific violence against transgender women from the past month leave no doubt that Alejandra will be in extreme danger if she is returned to El Salvador. On October 27, armed men riding in a van grabbed Anahy Miranda Rivas, a transgender woman, dragged her several meters, and fatally stabbed her before dumping her body in front of night club in San Salvador.

The body of Jade Diaz, a transgender activist from the Salvadoran department of Morazon, was found floating in the Torola river on November 9. According to media reports, “part of her body was inside a bag” along with several heavy stones.

On November 16 — the same day that Alejandra spoke at Amnesty International’s Northeast Regional Conference in Rhode Island — the naked body of another transgender woman, Victoria Pineda, was found in the middle of a street in the village of Cara Sucia. She had been beaten with rocks and poles, leaving her with multiple lacerations and her face “totally disfigured.”

The U.S. government would have us believe that El Salvador is safe enough for transgender individuals like Alejandra who have previously been threatened and attacked. As Bianka Rodríguez of Comcavis Trans explained, these recent murders show “what it is like for us as LGBTI people to live in a society that hates us and a state that does not offer us the protection it should and yet calls itself a safe country.”

November 20 was Transgender Day of Remembrance. On that day and all others, we must remember and honor those who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence, and the Trump Administration must recognize that those fleeing persecution and violence have a right to seek asylum in the U.S. under both domestic and international law.

Photos of Alejandra at the NERC taken by David Rendell can be found here.

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