Jamaican asylum seekers in Tijuana facing racism and homophobia while waiting

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When a Jamaican couple recently visited a laundromat in Tijuana, the woman in charge yelled at them and forced one woman to stand outside while the other did their laundry.

T and S, who asked to be identified by their initials as they are claiming asylum and are not yet safe, quickly noticed that no other customers were forced to wait on the street. Although they don’t speak much Spanish, a word came out as the laundry worker mocked them as he spoke to other customers: “lesbiana”. Then another word, “policía”.

“I kept telling him, ‘We’re not doing anything. We don’t bother anyone, ”said T.

“If stares could kill a person, I would be dead,” added S.

The incident is one of many incidents the two women experienced as they waited in Tijuana for the United States to begin processing asylum claims at ports of entry. As black lesbian migrants, some of these incidents are rooted in racism, others in homophobia, and still others at the intersection of the two.

T and S are among just over 30 Jamaicans who identify as part of the LGBTQ + community who are currently waiting in shelters, hotels and Airbnb rentals around the border town, according to Emem Maurus, lawyer for the LGBTQ + community. Border Butterflies Coalition of the Transgender Law Center. They were forced to flee their countries of origin due to the intense discrimination and danger they faced due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Conditions in Tijuana for asylum seekers are tough, and they are especially tough for Jamaicans like T and S, Maurus said. Jamaicans are arrested by the Mexican National Guard, denied entry to stores, and randomly detained by local police. Some are sick and do not have access to medical care.

The US government completely shut down the reception of asylum seekers at points of entry at the start of the pandemic. It never reopened.

Some made it into the United States over the summer when a temporary program resulting from legal negotiations allowed people to seek exemptions from this pandemic-era policy, known as Title 42. But those who are now in Tijuana face an indefinite wait.

With the hope that the Biden administration will ultimately deliver on its promise to create a humane asylum system, some asylum seekers gave up waiting and snuck into the United States. Those at risk of being deported to Mexico or their country of origin under Title 42 without access to asylum checks if arrested.

Calculating the risk of crossing US soil without permission only gets more complicated as the Biden administration prepares to reimplement the ‘Stay in Mexico’ program, a policy created under the Trump administration that required some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their US immigration court cases unfold. The program has restarted in Texas, but it has not yet reached the California border.

Although the Trump administration’s version of policy includes asylum seekers from Spanish-speaking countries as well as Brazil, the Biden administration’s rules state that anyone from a country in the Western Hemisphere could be returned. , potentially even Jamaicans.

S and T show off their engagement rings. They have been together for three years and hope to marry after arriving in the United States.

(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

T and S don’t want to cross without permission because they know the journey itself is dangerous and they fear the possibility of being deported to Jamaica. The risk does not seem to them to be worth it.

The young couple are awaiting responses to their requests for humanitarian parole, a program that allows the federal government to approve temporary entry into the United States due to extreme circumstances, such as a serious, incurable illness in Mexico.

Once inside the United States, parolees can go through other processes to seek protection and stay in the country. US asylum law allows people to seek protection on the basis of persecution because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

But customs and border protection have left many parole applications unanswered for months, as detailed in a complaint sent to the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General’s office earlier this year.

CBP did not respond to a request for comment on parole processing.

“If we go back to Jamaica we will have to start all over again and we might not be able to do it,” T said. “We will be in danger. “

She didn’t think they could afford the trip a second time. They secretly saved up for about a year to be able to make the trip. They had to be sure of their decision to leave because of the cost, T.

Their last push to leave came after a security guard pointed a gun at them.

“People have told us that if we were their daughters they would kill us,” T said. “It’s disgusting some of the things they say. It’s traumatic.

The couple said that as lesbians in Jamaica they have struggled to find or keep jobs and housing.

When they went to the police to report hate crimes against them, the police did nothing.

“He asked me why I didn’t dress differently,” S recalls of such an encounter with the police. He said, ‘If you dress differently or go out with a few men, you won’t get as much attention. “”

When they left, they took the advice of a friend, a Jamaican gay man who had made the trip before. They flew from Jamaica to Cancun, then Mexico City and finally Tijuana. He told them about an LGBTQ-friendly shelter where they could stay once they got to the border.

They had to spend a few days in each city on the way to look like tourists. Jamaicans visiting Mexico are not required to have visas, but if they show any sign of intention to seek asylum in the United States, Mexican immigration officials will attempt to arrest them before they can. they do not reach Tijuana.

And although S wore more stereotypical feminine clothes than she usually does, the two were arrested along the way, they said. It has become more difficult for migrants who identify as part of the LGBTQ + community to overtake Mexican authorities in recent months, Maurus said.

They knew they couldn’t enter the United States right away, but they didn’t know it would take that long. They have already been in Tijuana for five months, long enough to celebrate their two birthdays.

Their parole application has been pending for much of that time.

While in Tijuana, they discovered that they were often mistaken for Haitians when they went out shopping. Sometimes, after showing that they spoke English, they could convince the person discriminating against them that they were American and get better treatment, they said.

Still, they were prevented from shopping in some stores and security followed them to others. A barbershop made them stand outside to wait for their friend, but they saw another group of their size come in and wait with no problem.

“White, brown, they let them in,” T said, “not our skin tone.”

Although they were used to homophobic treatment in Jamaica, anti-black racism was a more recent experience for them. They only left the refuge when needed.

But even there, racism made life more difficult, they said. T and S struggled to feel comfortable at the shelter because they felt judged by others. They spent most of their time in their rooms to avoid conflict, but even there they lacked privacy. They shared this room with five other people.

Then one day, after the couple got into a fight, the shelter told them to leave.

The rest of the Jamaicans at the shelter left with them, believing they would be the next to be deported.

S and T are outlined in front of a window

S and T are chatting in their dining room.

(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A coalition Maurus is linked to has since rented Airbnb homes for the group of Jamaicans. The one they are in now has a washer and dryer, so they no longer have to deal with the laundry.

Two Jamaicans they knew had their parole applications approved and were able to reach American soil last month, T and S. said.

Once in the United States, the couple’s dream is to get married. They have already been together for three years and are engaged.

Beyond that, they want to find a way to help others in situations like theirs.

“I am passionate about letting people know that they are not alone,” said T.

Neither has any illusions that the United States is a perfect place, but they believe they will be safer there than in Jamaica or Tijuana. They know that they are also likely to encounter racism and homophobia in the United States, and they have researched which cities might be the friendliest for them.

“Even with your problems, this still seems like the best option,” T said. “Racism is something you cannot avoid. “


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