Estrellita is a transgender woman from Honduras. Prior to fleeing her country, multiple people attempted to end her life. Attackers set her body aflame, tried running her over with a car, and attempted to throw her over a bridge. Walking down the street alone meant that she would almost certainly be verbally assaulted, spat on, and physically intimidated. Like many asylum seekers, the days of her life were spent narrowly escaping death – surviving one threat after another, and in Estrellita’s case, fleeing brutal transphobia in one area of Honduras, only to face it yet again.
After repeated attempts to find safety in other areas within her country, Estrellita made the decision to seek asylum in the United States. She arrived just as the U.S. government sent dozens of transgender asylum-seeking women – Estrellita included – to an ill-equipped, all-male facility in Pearsall, Texas. In response, the Immigration Justice Campaign partnered with RAICES and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project to provide pro bono representation to these women.
Dozens of attorneys, including a team from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and a large group of mental health and forensic medical professionals, stepped up to help. Attorneys and advocates on these cases reported that the barriers to due process for this group of women were particularly difficult to navigate, as their unique needs were disregarded by immigration officials and immigration judges. These issues, coupled with the notorious hostility of this Texas jurisdiction, made the fight for a fair day in court one of particular difficulty, and at times, discouragement.
However, against the odds, five pro bono teams won asylum on behalf of their transgender clients this month. Estrellita can now live free of persecution and constant fear of death and hopes to settle into safety in the United States.
Meanwhile, in Pearsall, the battles on behalf of the women still detained wage on. This month’s victories, and continuing efforts on-the-ground, would not be possible without the expertise and advocacy of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project team, RAICES, and our dedicated Justice Campaign volunteer community. As the Justice Campaign expands work to more detention centers, we need more advocates to volunteer both remotely and in person. We have cases in need of volunteers today! The Immigration Justice Campaign will provide the technical assistance and mentorship needed to provide meaningful assistance to detained immigrants, only 14% of whom have an attorney. With more volunteers and placed cases, more asylum seekers like Estrellita can walk into immigration court, knowing that they are not alone, and walk out with hope for the future.
Don’t miss the Justice Campaign’s AILA Training Sessions at this year’s Annual Conference, as well as multiple interactive panels featuring retired Immigration Judges and removal defense experts in the Fearless Lawyer Lounge. Browse our full list of activities, and if you haven’t signed up for the conference, register today!