A court has ruled that a Honduran trans woman who spent almost three years in ICE custody should have been granted asylum in the United States.
Kelly Gonzalez Aguilar first fled to Mexico at 12 years old with her sister, alleging that she was beaten by her uncle because she was acting feminine. Still persecuted in Mexico, Gonzalez Aguilar then fled to the United States, where she transitioned.
Her asylum claim was initially denied, as was her appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. She spent almost three years in immigration detention – including several months in solitary confinement. She was released in July 2020 due to the extensive work of activists fighting for her freedom with the #FreeKelly campaign.
After over 1,000 days in ICE detention, Kelly González Aguilar is finally free! 🎉🎉🎉 pic.twitter.com/mKCd9oIg2N
— Amnesty International USA (@amnestyusa) September 5, 2020
Recently, Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Aguilar should have been granted asylum due to the “extensive and widespread violence against transgender individuals in Honduras.”
“Any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to find a pattern or practice of persecution against Transgender women in Honduras,” the ruling said.
In a statement released by the National Immigrant Justice Center, Gonzalez Aguilar praised the decision and said it “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.”
She continued, “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.”
“The impact of this decision will save Transgender lives,” added Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos, Trans Asylum Advocacy Director at the [email protected] Coalition. “I recall my visits inside detention and weekly phone calls with Kelly while she survived three years in ICE detention. 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.”
Gonzalez Aguilar must now return to immigration court to process her asylum claim.
The National Immigrant Justice Center also noted that the ruling will likely have influence throughout the United States, as it is rare for a court to acknowledge a “pattern or practice of persecution against a protected group.”