The United States has the resources to provide shelter for LGBTQ+ people facing deadly violence in South America, but instead the Trump administration is refusing to do so.
This week the news website Insider published a harrowing profile of a transgender woman living in El Salvador, who claims she was the last trans woman left in her city after everyone else has fled or been killed. After being targeted by a gang for being transgender, the woman — identified by the pseudonym Yolanda — applied for asylum in the United States.
Yolanda is one of an estimated 46,800 Salvadorans who applied for asylum abroad, although that number does not specify how many applicants are transgender.
Although 94 percent of El Salvador's municipalities face rampant gang activity, such as the violence Yolanda experienced, the Trump administration has designated the Latin American nation as a "safe third country" where asylum applicants can be forced to wait while their case is stalled by U.S. immigration officials.
LGBTQ+ people face extremely high rates of attacks in El Salvador, according to the United Nations, but with increased border patrols, it’s difficult for them to leave the country. In essence, the Trump administration forces them into a dangerous country that won’t let them escape.
Many of Yolanda’s friends have been killed by gangs, sometimes near police who did nothing to help. She’s been beaten and left with scars, threatened with death, and sexually assaulted.
In response, LGBTQ+ residents have coped as best they can, fleeing the country’s most violent cities in what’s called "el éxodo de las mujeres vestidas" or "the exodus of the dressed women." For now, Yolanda is staying with the family of a friend and hoping that the U.S. will eventually respond to her asylum request.
But LGBTQ+ people around the world may have little chance of rescue. Despite Trump’s claim to be a “friend” to the LGBTQ+ community, the administration has turned its back on those most in need of assistance.
Earlier this week, presidential candidate Julián Castro escorted a dozen LGBTQ+ and disabled asylum seekers across the border into the United States. They had all previously been forced to wait in a dangerous border town while the country considered their applications and hoped that Castro could facilitate their entry into the country so their lives were no longer at risk.
But within hours, U.S. officials forced them to return, placing them once again in harm’s way. Wait times can range from weeks to months to years.
In February of this year, a transgender asylum seeker named Camila Díaz Córdova was killed after the United States forced her to go back El Salvador. The year before, Roxsana Hernández died in U.S. custody after requesting asylum.