A transgender Honduran woman has been granted a second chance at asylum for her safety, after two U.S. judges refused her application.
Kelly Gonzalez Aguilar was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and raised by her uncle after her mother fled the country. When Kelly was quite young, her uncle noticed that her behavior wasn’t what he expected in a boy, and he grew violent. He forbid Kelly from speaking to girls or watching television, forcibly cut her hair, and beat her multiple times a week while calling her homophobic slurs. Her school told her she was no longer allowed to attend classes unless she dressed like a boy, and reporting the abuse at home to her teachers only garnered further abuse.
Kelly was only 12 when she fled this treatment, running away to Mexico to look for her mother. But she and her sister were both entrapped by a man who forced the two girls into sex work. Kelly was 17 when she escaped in 2014, crossing the border into Texas and filing for asylum, claiming that life was unsafe for a transgender Honduran woman.
Despite her filing, she was detained in 2017 in New Mexico, and ICE began deportation proceedings. Immigration judge Donald O’Hare agreed to hear her case, but he found her grounds for asylum insufficient.
He called her experiences “more akin to abuse than persecution,” and decided she did not qualify for protection as an LGBT child when she arrived in 2014, therefore her initial application was invalid. Since she was now an adult, he said that she was not at risk of ‘systemic or pervasive persecution” in Honduras because ‘over a dozen’ of the 218 recorded violent deaths of transgender people in Honduras have been prosecuted since 2013, when such protections were enacted.
A second judge in 2018 upheld that ruling, but Kelly appealed again in 2020. This time, a 2-1 vote in federal appeals court has ordered immigration authorities, at last, to reconsider her application. They voted that it was clear she would face persecution and probably violence if deported back to Honduras.
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