Carolina Ibarra clings to the hope she has left after fighting for nine years to obtain asylum in the United States after an appeals court ruled against her.
The Mexican immigrant, who is transsexual, says that fear paralyzes her when she thinks that she may be forced to return to her native country, from which she still carries painful memories.
“They make fun of you, they say things to you, bad words. They pushed me, they tried to attack me because of who I was,” said the 43-year-old woman whose birth name is Juan Carlos Ibarra. “My physique was always very feminine, my voice was very feminine, so it was very difficult for me to hide it.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana recently denied Ibarra asylum by affirming an earlier decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals that had denied him in 2019. The board made that decision after a judge ruled against him. the Mexican in October 2017.
The continuous denials of her asylum request have left Ibarra “confused,” she said. For now, she continues to work evenings as a waitress in a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and prays that her lawyer can negotiate with the US government.
“I feel like someone punched me in the stomach,” said Rebecca Kitson, Ibarra’s attorney, after learning of the recent appeals court decision. “There are not many options left. We have a very limited toolbox right now for her.”
Ibarra, who was born in Durango and grew up in a small town in that state, came to the United States in 1996, when he was 18 years old, taking advantage of the fact that a sister and brother-in-law lived in New Mexico.
“It was a way to escape. People like me are bullied a lot, there is a lot of discrimination,” he said.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch assure that in Mexico and other Latin American countries there have been important legislative advances in the defense of the rights of LGBT people. However, that progress has been overshadowed by episodes of violence.
Cristian González, an LGBT rights researcher with the group, listed recent acts of violence against LGBT people in Mexico City and in Mexican states near the US border.
“In the latter there is a lot of anti-LGBT violence perpetrated not only by citizens but by criminal groups. Some target LGBT people particularly because they are more vulnerable and have fewer support systems,” González said.
Human Rights Watch denounced in a report issued in 2020 that 138 Salvadoran men and women deported by the United States to their native country since 2013 were murdered after returning to El Salvador. Camila Díaz, a Salvadoran transsexual, was one of them. In July 2020, a Salvadoran court sentenced three police officers to two decades in prison for the murder of Díaz.
The Fifth Circuit court affirmed the decision to deny Ibarra asylum because it concluded that there was sufficient evidence of progress in terms of legal protections for LGBT people in Mexico.
After arriving in the United States, Ibarra began washing dishes in a hotel in Albuquerque and studying English. Years passed and little by little she transformed her body into that of a woman. In 2011, however, she was detained at home when immigration authorities went to arrest her roommate for living in the country without authorization and realized that Ibarra was in the same situation.
She spent a month in detention until a bail payment company released her.
After that, he began his asylum process in the immigration courts. That allowed him to obtain a temporary work permit and a social security number.
Now he wonders what the days hold for him because he doesn’t know what a life in Mexico would be like, where he doesn’t think he would be able to get a job. At the same time, he doesn’t want to live in fear of deportation in the United States.
“I want to fight until the last minute. I already suffered a lot. I wouldn’t want to be hiding,” Ibarra said.
The administration of President Joe Biden has issued guidelines not to detain migrants solely for living illegally in the United States. The administration says it focuses on arresting only those who commit crimes or are a danger to society.
Ibarra hopes she won’t have to go back into the shadows.
“I couldn’t live happily like this. One mistake, one traffic stop, and well, everything comes to light,” he said.