Connect with us

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal appeals court rules trans Honduran woman should have received asylum in U.S.

Kelly González Aguilar spent nearly three years in ICE custody



Kelly González Aguilar spent nearly three years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. (Photo courtesy of National Immigrant Justice Center)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled a transgender woman from Honduras should have received asylum in the U.S. because of “extensive evidence of widespread violence against transgender individuals” in her homeland.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in favor of Kelly González Aguilar, who is from San Pedro Sula in Honduras’ Cortés department.

González claims her uncle beat her because of her “feminine behavior.”

She fled to Mexico with her sister when she was 12. They tried to find her mother, but the ruling notes González and her sister “suffered further abuse in Mexico, leading them to flee again — this time for the United States.” González transitioned once she arrived in the U.S.

An immigration judge denied González’s asylum claim. She appealed the decision to the Virginia-based Board of Immigration Appeals, which also rejected it.

“Any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to find a pattern or practice of persecution against transgender women in Honduras,” reads the 10th Circuit ruling.

González spent nearly three years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center, a privately-run facility in suburban Denver, on July 14, 2020. González currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“This is an important decision that recognizes what it is like for people like me in Honduras, and I am happy that other trans people will be able to benefit from my experience,” said González in a press release the National Immigrant Justice Center, which represents her, issued after the 10th Circuit issued its ruling. “Waiting for three years in detention for this decision to come was very hard, but I am proud and grateful for all of the activists, campaign partners and lawyers who helped me along the way. I hope that with this decision they change many laws that violate human rights of LGBTQI immigrants who only ask for refuge.”

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in Honduras.

Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist who led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a trans advocacy group, was murdered outside her home in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Jan. 11. A trans man who was a bus driver in San Pedro Sula fled to the U.S. in February in order to escape persecution and harassment that he and his family suffered because of his gender identity.

A street market in downtown San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on March 11, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last June issued a landmark ruling that found the Honduran state responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a trans activist who was killed in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, after the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya.

Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, took office as Honduras’ first female president on Jan. 26.

Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Tegucigalpa, notes Hernández and Rodríguez are two of the more than 400 LGBTQ people who have been reported killed in Honduras since 2009.

Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos, trans asylum advocacy director for the TransLatin@ Coalition, in the press release said the 10th Circuit decision “will save transgender lives.”

“I recall my visits inside detention and weekly phone calls with Kelly while she survived three years in ICE detention,” said Silva-Bañuelos. “Her courage, strength and kindness are part of her resilience, as she waited for her case to be decided she supported other transgender asylum seekers while they were in detention. Kelly became a pillar of strength and support for other trans siblings and with this decision her determination will continue to have a ripple effect for transgender lives.”


U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017



(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’



J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

VP, Press Secretary condemn appeals court’s abortion pill ruling

Outcome of the case now pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court



Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, New Orleans, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
The Fifth Circuit has ruled against marriage bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

Vice President Kamala Harris and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued separate statements on Wednesday objecting to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which upheld a lower court’s restrictions on access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Both, however, noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance in April of a stay in the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, which halted the enforcement of any changes to the drug’s availability pending the outcome of the appeals process.

The lawsuit aims to invalidate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, a medication that scientific and medical experts overwhelmingly agree has since been proven safe and effective.

Harris and Jean-Pierre stressed that the restrictions handed down by the appellate and district courts constitute medically unnecessary barriers to reproductive healthcare, while the litigation threatens to imperil the FDA’s statutorily ordained right to exercise its expert judgment over drug products in the U.S.

“The President and I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health care,” the vice president said.

The press secretary echoed those comments. “The Administration will continue to stand by FDA’s independent approval of mifepristone as safe and effective,” she said, adding, “The Department of Justice announced that it will be seeking Supreme Court review” of the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

At this juncture, the High Court could decline to review the case, which would effectively allow the appellate court’s ruling to stand, but many legal experts believe the justices are likely to weigh in considering the importance of the legal questions at issue.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade