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Editor’s Note: Since 2009, Honduras has seen a spike in hate crimes and murders of members of the transgender community. For one Honduran immigrant who is applying for asylum, the fight to stay in the United States could be a matter of life or death.
ATLANTA -- A Honduran who immigrated to the United States illegally seven years ago to escape harassment related to her sexual orientation and gender identity, now fears that she may have to go back to a country that has become even less safe.
But she has one hope: that she will be able to stay through a grant of asylum.
Nelson Castro, who now calls herself Marisela, is currently in immigration detention in Gainesville, Ga. where she is facing a deportation order.
During her childhood and adolescence in her native town of Juticalpa, Castro suffered physical and sexual abuse. She also had to tolerate constant bullying.
Her family, for example, does not accept her sexual preference, her chosen name or the fact that she occasionally dresses as a woman.
“They used to tell me that what I do is disgusting, that I shouldn’t exist, that I’m the worst of our family and that God does not forgive me,” Castro told MundoHispánico.
These experiences made her decide to flee Honduras.
“I don’t want to go back to my country. There are people from Honduras who tell me that it isn’t worth going back, that if I go to Honduras, the worst thing might happen to me,” Castro said.
Castro, who is now 30, tried to cross into the United States illegally in 2005, but immigration authorities on the Texas border arrested and deported her.
But on her second try, the Honduran immigrant made it into the country. She lived in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.
In North Carolina, she was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking but the charges were later dropped when she was found to have no involvement in the matter.
However, because she was undocumented, she was put in deportation proceedings. She has been in detention since the end of 2011.
Intolerance and repression
Castro’s fear of returning to Honduras reflects the reality that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community experiences in Honduras, where hate crimes against them are commonplace.
According to Suyapa Portillo, a professor at Pitzer University and an expert on Central America, even though the violence and intolerance toward this community has been going on for a long time, hate crimes against them spiked after the fall of the Manuel Zelaya government in 2009.
“After the coup, it created a situation of lawlessness in the country. Much of this violence is perpetrated by police and military in the street, especially against the transgender community,” Portillo said.
According to Portillo, after the coup more than 80 members of the LGBT community in Honduras were killed.
“They were found dead, tied up, mutilated,” said Portillo.
But many of these crimes have not been investigated in the Central American country and the perpetrators have gone unpunished, the professor explained.
This lack of reporting makes the work of Castro’s attorneys even more difficult. In order to get asylum in the United States, they would have to prove that Castro would face persecution. And without evidence of this from the government, the case is hard to make.
According to a report by the organization Human Rights Watch, between 2004 and 2009, at least 17 transgender people were murdered in Honduras. Human Rights Watch has called for the Honduran government to investigate these crimes.
Castro is afraid she could fall victim to the same fate.
“I had two friends who died for the simple fact that they said, ‘I’m gay,’ said the Honduran.
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