Journey to Freedom

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By Joe Castel

Back in November, Palm Springs’ residents Craig Scott and his partner, UbaldoBoido, received a phone call from a community activist in San Diego about an asylum seeker from Honduras who was being released from the ICE detentioncenter in San Ysidro.They would only have to take him in for a few days.

Scott and his partner had been to Tijuana previously to visit two LGBT shelters for immigrants that were waiting to hear back from the US about their status. Recently, the Trump administration has ruled that people seeking asylum must wait it out on the other side of the border while their request is being processed. In other words, you have to take a number to get inside the hielera (ice box) as the detention center is so reverently referenced.

A couple of months ago Scott and his partner went to an event held by Democratic Socialists of America where they were addressing their visits to the border. “My partner, Ubaldo and I then became curious and decided to check out the shelters in Tijuana, El Jardín de las Mariposas and Casa de Luz,says Scott. “We were horrified by the stories we heard of the people staying there. They had seen friends and lovers murdered, incest, and gang rapes. We were shocked and committed to doing something. Before we left we paid a water bill to avoid the water being cut off.”

Scott and his partner now visit the shelters regularly to give food, toiletries and hope to the refugees waiting in limbo. Scott has also on occasion taken our magazine,Adelante. “Is gay life really like this?” one of the gay men Ernesto asks, as he thumbs through the magazine. They find it hard to believe that gay life can be so open in California. On a second trip, Scott discovers Ernesto has been hording the magazines, but Scott coaxes him to pose with the publication. For now, Ernesto can only dream of what freedom means, as many of the LGBT refugees have come from countries where discrimination is a daily occurrence, even from the government. I wonder if Scott told Ernesto being gay anywhere on this planet is not a walk in the park—yet.

Ernesto is scared and apprehensive as he waits to be sent to an ICE detention center. His sister, who is trans, also expects to go into an ICE facility soon.

El Jardín De Las Mariposas

El Jardín de Las Mariposas is a shelter and rehabilitation center for LGBT individuals, located in Tijuana, just two miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. It was founded by Yolanda Rocha and her son, Jaime Marin,in 2014.


“El Jardín de Las Mariposas is a sanctuary shelter for our brothers and sisters in Central America who are fleeing their countries and afraid for their lives,” says Marin. “We started as a rehab center for the LGBT community, but since the need for LGBT services is so big in Tijuana, we had to expand our services.” These services now include assistance with the political asylum process, job searching, and acting as a homeless shelter.

El Jardín recently had to relocate after their residents suffered violent transphobic attacks at their previous location. The new facility is a beautifully renovated two-story house that currently houses 25 trans and queer residents.

Casa de Luz also houses LGBT immigrants along with straight families and individuals. Unfortunately, Casa de Luz is even in worse financial shape than ElJardín. Families are crowded in hallways and large rooms.

“We knew our LGBT community needed to learn more about this,” says Scott. “We decided to start telling people and bringing them down to TJ. People are moved by the experience.”Because of Scott and Ubaldo’s involvement with several of the shelters, they agreed to host an asylum seeker in their own home in Palm Springs.

Luis Fernando Hernandez Mateo began his journey towards the United States in October of 2018, after fleeing Honduras. Luis is a gay man who founded an LGBT rights organization in his hometown of Catacamas. During an LGBT rally in 2016, the military attacked the demonstrators and arrested a 19-year-old friend of Luis’ who was a transgender woman. Two hours later they found her lifeless body.

After the demonstration, Luis began to receive death threats. Although he had no proof, he believes the military was behind the threats because of what had happened to his friend.

According to the LGBT rights group, Red LesbicaCattrachas, from 2009 to 2014, nearly 200 violent deaths of LGBT persons were registered in the country and several high-profile activists have been murdered.

International human rights organizations have also stated that the military government, the conservative National Party of Honduras, has targeted LGBT people for harassment, abuse and murder.

Deciding not to travel alone, Luis joined a caravan in August of 2018. As they trekked by foot, he met many LGBT individuals who were also alone. Sometimes strangers would offer them food, water or work. Many of those gay individuals who were offered work, ended up being raped or abducted by these pseudo good Samaritans.

Two months later, Luis arrived in Tijuana. Desperate for money, when a friendly woman offered him work, he accepted and got into her car. She drove him to a huge house behind a large gate and wall. He hadn’t realized it, but he had just been kidnapped.

It was a surreal nightmare for Luis being held hostage with 30 others like him in this luxury home. His adductors asked for Luis’ family’s phone number, but he gave them a wrong number. He didn’t want his mother to worry or try to come up with a ransom. When his kidnappers realized they weren’t going to get any money from Luis’ family, they put him to work cleaning the house. Beatings were regular, though they were fed and not given any drugs.

One night, the house gate was left open and Luis escaped. He went to the Tijuana police to report the human traffickers, but the police responded with a veiled threat of their own. They warned Luis that if they investigated the crime, his accusers would find out where he was staying, come for him, decapitate him and throw his body in an acid bath. 

The next day Luis headed for the border and applied for asylum. Because Luis had requested asylum prior to Trump’s waiting policy, he was taken immediately into the hielera (ice box) in San Ysidro in Jan of 2019.

After a few weeks there, he was transported to the ICE Detention Center in Aurora, Colorado that holds nearly 1,500 people. Just because it’s further from the border doesn’t make the living conditions any better. The facility has been described as a “prison, a concentration camp, and a cagewhere people are treated as criminals — animals”, says Danielle Jefferis, who works with the civil rights clinic of the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “Some of the food like the beans and rice were sometimes raw and hard to chew,” recalled Luis. And sometimes the meals even had worms in them.Immigration is also big business. According to Jefferis the immigrant incarceration system made “over $2 billion in profits in 2017.”  Talk about Human Trafficking!

After a few weeks on Scott’s sofa, Luis was told that he had a more permanent residency in Los Angeles. “It takes a lot to host someone,” stresses Scott. The Palm Springs couple had to take Luis to get his passport, and other papers to protect his Withholding of Removal status. This Withholding of Removal is a special type of order issued by an immigration judge to a person who demonstrates more than a 50% chance that they will be persecuted in their home country on account of their race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.

Most importantly, hosts are obligated to help with transportation to ICE check-in appointments and court dates. If they miss a court date a deportation order is issued. Being a sponsor is a bigresponsibility and best accomplished by a couple of people pitching in explains Scott.

Presently, Luis cannot work, so all of his basic needs have to be taken care of by the host. “Many of the straight people coming to the U.S. have family here that will take them in,” says Scott. “That’s not usually the case for LGBT individuals whose families often reject them.”

I asked Scott why he was doing this, and he said after meeting the people in the shelters, “The question is,how could I not do this?We met so many people entering the camps, and don’t see them anymore. It’s so unfair to criminalize people who don’t want to die in their own country and yet we dehumanize them in ours.Luis’ story is not unique. Luis’s story is terrible, but there are so many people whose story is even worse.”

“This is not the country I grew up in,” Scottcontinues. “I’m gonna fight to change it. We should be ashamed of giving food with worms in it to people. The LGBT community has to do more to help these people.”

Luis says he would like to go to school and a get a degree in human rights, so he can go back to Honduras and improve LGBT rights in his homeland. He also wants to find work to send money back to his mother.

Perhaps our readers can skip the New Year’s Resolution diet, opting instead to help LGBT immigrants by contributing or getting involved. Below you can find out more about the two shelters in Tijuana.

Casa de Luz

If you want to know more about LGBT immigrants staying at Casa de Luz, visit their GoFundMe page at:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/casa-de-luz?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

Scott and Boido have created a Go Fund Me campaign for El Jardín. This Go Fund Me campaign is directly linked to El Jardín’s bank account. Your donations will be put to action immediately.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-trans-migrant-women-in-tijuana?fbclid=IwAR3wknWbefyBMyM-56rjW4KpqHSBOIyccN3e4ehsHD0mg1jhfYigevp7sao


El Jardíin De Las Mariposas is in the process of launching a website. For the time being, you can learn more about El Jardín De Las Mariposas from their Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/Jardin-De-Las-Mariposas-986203511414045/

If you want to know more about the humanitarian crisis at the border, and want to help or donate, go to the Minority Humanitarian Foundation website and find out how you can get involved.

https://www.minorityhumanitarianfoundation.com
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