No Permanent Injury

A JFON attorney wrote this first-hand account from inside an immigration detention center. Her name, the name of her LGBTQ client, and location details are being kept secret to protect the client’s safety and privacy.

Imagine being a woman walking with a bag of groceries and personal hygiene needs. You are on the street. It is daylight. There are kids playing and women sitting in their front yards.

You see four guys walking towards you. You can see that one is carrying a firearm. You deduce that from their clothing and bearing and tattoos that they are gang members, because you are in a Central American country where every neighborhood is controlled by a gang. It is your second day back in this country since your mother took you, your siblings, and your close cousin away, when you were 10 years old.

You note another group of four men, also ranging in age between approximately 17-30 years old, across the street. You hear them call to each other.

You hear: Stop her.

The U.N. has labeled Central America as the world’s most violent region for women—and it’s much worse for lesbian and transgender women. Transgender activist Francela Mendez was murdered in 2017. 

The men walk faster and now all eight are behind you. You are walking faster, too, but four of the men get in front of you. And now the group has encircled you. You can plainly see that five of the eight men who have surrounded you on the street have guns.

The children have all scattered…they’ve run to hide.

One of the armed men demands to know if you are a boy or a girl. You say you’re a girl. They are calling you names, vulgar names. They’re saying you look more like a guy.

The man face to face with you pulls up your sweatshirt to look at your breasts. As he does this, you drop both your shopping bags.

The man behind you pulls down your pants. He yells to the guy in front of you.

See if she has a penis.

The armed men are all yelling at once. You pull up your pants. The people in their yards watch silently. You are humiliated; you are less than a person.

Months later, your lawyer will ask if you’ve ever seen an adult undress another adult in broad daylight in the middle of a street. The ICE lawyer will object. Your lawyer will ask if you’ve ever seen anyone turn a kitten or puppy or an animal over to inspect the animal’s genitals. The ICE lawyer will object, saying this is not relevant. The judge will ask your lawyer to respond to the objection.

Your lawyer will say, because this is not something we do to human beings. This is cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment, your honor, that’s why.

And you answer, and both you and your lawyer are weeping.

You can’t see the tiny face of the tiny judge on the screen. Your lawyer says, we both need a break, your honor. The judge grants a ten-minute “comfort break.”

The bailiff reminds your lawyer for the second time today that she’s not allowed to touch you. The bailiff wants you to know, this is not my rule!

Your lawyer confirms this, saying he, the bailiff, is a compassionate man.

The bailiff accompanies each of you out of the locked room, each to the bathroom that each of you — belonging to separate categories of personhood – may use. Altogether there are six un-lockings and re-lockings of doors.

When you get back in the room that’s used as a “courtroom,” your lawyer apologizes again for what she is about to ask you. At the beginning of the hearing, she had asked the ICE lawyer if she would agree to stipulate to the fact that you are a lesbian.

That way we won’t have to go through your sexual history.

But the ICE lawyer says no, she will NOT so stipulate. You are going to have to testify that you’re a lesbian. Prove it. 

Photo by Anh Nguyen, Unsplash

So that’s what happens next. Do you remember your first sexual experience…all these questions, until the judge finally interrupts and asks the ICE lawyer if she needs to hear more? Or is she now satisfied that you are a lesbian?

She says she doesn’t need to hear any more.

Later, the judge will rule that he doesn’t believe this happened, because the asylum officer who conducted the reasonable fear interview did not write down any of the things you’re now claiming happened…. You say you had no idea what “particular social group” meant.

And anyway, what you say happened was not persecution, says the judge. There was no serious physical injury, no lasting physical damage, and you did not seek medical treatment.

There was, he rules, no permanent injury.



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