A transgender woman who sought asylum in the U.S. to escape discrimination and threats of violence was killed in her native country of El Salvador after she was deported, according to the Salvadoran trans advocacy group Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans.
As reported by NBC News, Camila Diaz Cordova, 31, had joined one of the migrant caravans heading to the U.S. from Central America, but her bid for asylum failed, resulting in her deportation and subsequent murder.
Gabby Nuñez, 32, a trans woman and resident of San Quentin, expressed concern and solidarity when she learned about Cordova’s deportation and murder.
“The U.S. government needs to take the threats against us more seriously, because our lives are in danger,” she said. “My heart goes out to Camila’s family because I think of my own family and how they would feel if something like that was to happen to me.”
Human rights and trans activists agree. “Violence against trans people is endemic, and it’s unconscionable that the United States would deport people back to those circumstances to meet their deaths,” said Neela Ghosal, an LGBTQ+ researcher at Human Rights Watch, in the NBC News article.
“Camila’s death makes the transgender community in El Salvador feel insecure,” said Mónica Linares, director of the Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans. “There’s a failure of protection in El Salvador and a failure of protection in the United States. Camila had a lot of evidence, and she still was not given asylum.”
Linares, who had known Cordova for over 10 years, recalled that prior to Cordova migrating to the U.S. to seek asylum, threats against her life were frequent and were documented back to at least 2014.
Cordova was fatally attacked four to five months after being deported back to El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador, where she died several days after being admitted to the Rosales National Hospital.
El Salvador is one of the deadliest countries in the world; its murder rates are among the highest for a country not at war. Evidence shows that the LGBTQ+ community, in particular trans women, are especially at risk, according to Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign.
The NBC News article explained that asylum is a protection granted to those who meet the criteria of a “refugee” as defined by international law. In the U.S., this means persecution or fear of persecution due to a person’s “race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is the division of the Department of Homeland Security that handles asylum petitions.
NBC News reported that immigration services did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claimed they were unable to locate Díaz Córdova’s case.
“Immigration is the door to get out of this circle of death. It is the only way they can imagine to have a real life,” said Andrea Ayala, founder of the Salvadorian LGBTQ+ rights group ESMULES. “You migrate to be respected, to have a possibility to survive, but most of all to live free and without fear of dying.”
Ayala stressed that asylum is a vital issue to the international LGBTQ+ community. “I don’t want that blood to be spread in vain. I want to make it count, and thank those martyrs for our movement,” Ayala said.
Violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community in El Salvador was so bad that the United Nations demanded an investigation following the murder of seven trans women within a five month period in 2017, according to NBC News.
The actual number could be much higher.
For example, the Association for Communicating and Training Trans Women reported 28 serious attacks, mostly fatal, committed against LGBTQ+ members in El Salvador between January and September 2017.
The founder of that organization, trans woman Karla Avelar, faced at least three assassination attempts and was forced to leave her home six times in a two-year period after which she fled El Salvador and sought asylum in Switzerland.
“As a trans woman, I feel fortunate that I don’t have to face all those hardships that they have in El Salvador,” said Roxanne Castellanos, a trans woman incarcerated at San Quentin. “Being a Mexican-Salvadorian who was born in the U.S. takes me away from all the hardships and threats that are happening in El Salvador.”
Castellanos admires all the Salvadorian trans women who continue to persevere under all the pain and threats that they are enduring.
“I give them my respects and feel that they are honorable in living their lives as trans women in a society that not only doesn’t accept them, but wants to harm and kill them,” Castellanos said.