Learn more about Alexis’ story by reading our report, A Legacy of Injustice: The U.S. Criminalization of Migration. Our report provides an in-depth look at how the U.S. government has used entry and reentry prosecutions to violate the rights of people like Alexis – and many others – who are seeking asylum. Lea la historia de Alexis en Español.
My name is Alexis; I am a transgender woman from Guatemala. In August of 2019, I arrived at the U.S. border, having escaped violence and persecution in Guatemala. When I arrived, CBP never asked about my fears. Instead, agents made fun of my gender, pulled my hair, yelled at me, and sent me to be prosecuted for unauthorized entry. After several months, I was deported to Guatemala. I never saw an immigration judge and no one asked me about my fears. Thankfully, my lawyers helped me return to the United States and I am now seeking asylum. I wanted to share my story.
Learn more about Alexis’ story by reading our report, A Legacy of Injustice: The U.S. Criminalization of Migration.
I left Guatemala because of violence. Because I am a trans woman, I experienced violence. I was told I would be killed because of how I am. In my neighborhood, they do not want anyone like me or like other people who have a different sexual preference. I had no choice; I had to leave.
It took me a long time to arrive at the border. The journey was terrifying and many I traveled with died. Finally, I arrived at the US border. A border patrol agent picked us up. I asked them for water. I even knelt, asking him to give me water, but he didn’t want to give me water. He told me to take off my shoes. I did and I stepped on cactus spikes in the desert.
We were taken to the hielera. It’s something that’s a living hell, to tell you the truth. It’s something real ugly, it’s really cold, it’s a really cold floor. They give you food that you can’t even imagine, but in that moment the food is so delicious because no one has food in their stomach because they haven’t eaten anything. But it’s really nasty food.
In the hielera, an immigration officer asked me what I came to do in the United States, why I didn’t stay in my country. I tried to tell him I was afraid, but he did not listen. He called me lots of bad words.
I spent one day and one night in the hielera before they transferred me to GEO in San Diego. I suffered in that detention. I suffered so much discrimination; I wasn’t with the people of my identity. I was with men. I was cold, and hungry, and depressed. I suffered so much discrimination from the security of the detention center.
A guard told another person in detention that he would bring him one more plate of food if he cut my hair. But, I got along with him and he told me “no,” that he wasn’t going to cut my hair because he got along very well with me. Then the guard told him, “I’ll give you two big plates of food if you cut her hair.”
I told the guard I was going to tell my lawyer everything he was saying. He said he wasn’t afraid.
One suffers a lot of discrimination in detention.
I didn’t go to immigration court. I only went to a federal court. What I was fighting against during those four months in federal detention, going to federal court and not immigration court, was so that I can go to fight my asylum case. It wasn’t that I was fighting my asylum case already, I was fighting to be able to go to asylum court. I spent four months locked up so that the judge would give me the opportunity to fight my immigration case. But, he did not.
After four months of being in San Diego, they moved me to another place, to another detention center. On day 15, more or less, I don’t remember because they don’t have a calendar or anything because we’re locked up, a security guard arrived in the middle of the night saying, “Get up, get up, get up!”
I told the guard, “I can’t leave. I’m fighting my asylum case. I can’t return to my country.” No one asked me if I was afraid to return to Guatemala. But, I told them. I begged the people from ICE and they didn’t listen to me. I begged them that I could not return to Guatemala. I told them part of my case in front of everybody. They still didn’t listen to me or even respond.
So I began to walk. An ICE agent told me to sign a deportation document, but I told them that I couldn’t sign off on my deportation because I was fighting my asylum case. The agent told me it didn’t matter -- that I was on a list and I was going to be sent back.
I asked him to allow me a phone call to contact my lawyer. The ICE agent told me I could not call anyone, that I didn’t have a reason to call anyone because I was already marked to be deported.
I started to cry.
They took me to the hielera again. I was in the hielera from about midnight until they took me out at about eight in the morning to sign the deportation. When I didn’t sign, they put me back in. Finally, I was put on a bus and sent to the airport.
We were handcuffed at the hands, waist, and ankles. We were on the bus for hours. We hadn’t eaten anything. We finally boarded the plane and I kept asking to talk to my lawyers. I was told that “calls are not permitted” and that I was being deported.
They sent me back to Guatemala, even though I was afraid and even though I never saw an immigration judge. I was sent back in chains. I didn’t have one cent, I didn’t have any money whatsoever. I was afraid. My country is very dangerous, there’s lots of violence.
I contacted my lawyers and they got me into a house where I could be safe. I spent two months there until I came back again to the United States. My lawyers tried to get me back to the United States without immigration detaining me – but when I arrived at customs in Chicago, they detained me again. I was detained for one day and one night in customs. They then took me to ICE and again to the hielera. ICE eventually released me.
At this moment, I am in the process of getting my asylum. I still don’t have it. I’m afraid to go outside – they haven’t granted me asylum or even a court date.