More than 3,000 people fleeing Honduras have joined a “caravan” with the goal of reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, where many will present themselves at ports of entry to claim asylum. Almost two dozen are queer and trans migrants, according to a source in Honduras who spoke exclusively to Rewire.News. For them, the journey is especially perilous.
“One of the reasons why a lot of transgender women are running away from this country is because of the lack of opportunity and generalized violence that has increased here in Honduras,” said Rihanna Ferrera Sanchez. “So many members of our community have been killed.”
Human rights groups have organized migrant caravans for several years. Only recently have these caravans come under scrutiny, often facing the ire of President Donald Trump.
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted, “The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” The threat to pull a reported $66 million in aid did not deter the caravan, with migrants reporting that aid goes to militarization and not people in need.
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Ferrera Sanchez is the leader of La Asociación de Derechos Humanos Cozumel Trans, an advocacy organization that fights for the rights of transgender people in Honduras. Through an interpreter, she told Rewire.News that nine trans women were murdered in the country in 2008; since then, that number has skyrocketed. A global study found that Honduras has the highest numbers of transgender murders relative to population size. The activist said that friends of hers have been murdered in “horribly violent” ways: some stoned to death, some strangled, and some simply “disappeared,” never heard from or seen again.
“One of our compadres who was fighting with us for gender equality was [recently] disappeared,” she said. “Our country is more militarized and it’s causing many problems for us. [Hondurans] are leaving for the United States because they want a better life, they want equality. They know they will be discriminated against wherever they go because they are transgender, but here in Honduras they have suffered so much violence.”
The country, whose government has been plagued by corruption and which was until very recently considered the murder capital of the world, has grown even more tense following a 2009 military coup. The ensuing increase in militarization has led to widespread allegations of abuse at the hands of soldiers, including arbitrary detentions, murder, torture, and rape. “Between 2012 and 2014, Honduran soldiers were accused of being involved in at least nine murders, over 20 cases of torture, and about 30 illegal detentions,” Reuters reported in 2015. In 2018, President Juan Orlando Hernández—who pledged to put a “soldier on every corner”—was questionably re-elected amid protests.
This militarization has hit LGBTQ communities especially hard, Ferrera Sanchez said, with many experiencing harassment, unjust arrests, and worse.
“Under the current government especially, we suffer a lot of discrimination [because of] our gender identity.” Ferrera Sanchez described activists being targeted for their work, saying government officials “do not recognize our gender identity or our rights.”
Ferrera Sanchez told Rewire.News there have been repercussions for Hondurans wanting to flee the country and for the most vulnerable migrants in the caravan. The organizer claimed that while Trump has threatened to “close” the U.S.-Mexico border, Orlando Hernandez has actually blocked some border crossings to Guatemala from Honduras.
“Of course this is definitely related to what President Trump said recently in a tweet. I don’t know what he means by the ‘support’ he is going to pull, that support doesn’t go to the people who feel like they have to leave here. All day today Hondurans are asking, ‘What support is he talking about?'” Ferrera Sanchez said. “But our president does fear losing support from the United States and he has shut down the border, and no people—not elderly people, children, or LGBTQ people—are being allowed to cross. He is denying them the right to migrate.”
The nature of this reported blockage is unclear. Although they do not describe a total border shutdown, several English- and Spanish-language outlets have noted that a smaller group of migrants was stopped from crossing into Guatemala this week. The Irish Times posted a video Friday of Honduran forces blocking migrants from entering Guatemala, forcing some to trek through the jungle. Rewire.News reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Honduras for comment, but did not hear back by publication time.
Ferrera Sanchez and her organization La Asociación de Derechos Humanos Cozumel Trans are planning a trip to Honduras’ border because they are “very worried” about what they’re hearing from human rights groups working with people who want to migrate to the United States to seek asylum. Ferrera Sanchez’s group is particularly interested in identifying LGBTQ migrants who may be stuck at the border to see how they can be helped and kept safe. The organizer is in touch with U.S.-based organizations as well, including the Transgender Law Center, which is helping to amplify Ferrera Sanchez’s work and spread the word on the conditions being faced by Honduras’ LGBTQ community.
Transgender women who were able to leave Honduras with the caravan are facing discrimination from government officials of the countries they pass through, according to Ferrera Sanchez. Human rights groups working with the caravans have put “no security measures” in place to help transgender migrants, Ferrera Sanchez says.
Last weekend, Honduran government officials attempted to block trans members of the caravan from entering Guatemala, according to multiple sources who spoke to Rewire.News. Ferrera Sanchez believes they were eventually able to enter the country to continue their journey because one woman she had been in touch with, Sasha, appeared to lose cell service when she entered Guatemala. Before crossing, Sasha told Ferrera Sanchez that one trans woman was traveling with her nephew and the others were migrating alone, but they were helping the “single women with children.” According to the organizer, “about 50 percent of the caravan is children,” ranging from newborns to children around 5 years old. Government officials in Guatemala were trying to charge the trans women helping to support the children on the journey with “human trafficking,” according to Ferrera Sanchez, but with the help of human rights organizations in the area, these charges were dropped.
If and when members of the migrant caravan reach ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border to claim asylum, it will be the beginning of yet another long journey. A recent Amnesty International report detailed the Trump administration’s immigration policies at that border, describing them as tantamount to “torture” that has subjected already vulnerable asylum seekers to “catastrophic harm.” Asylum seekers are being turned away at the border; there have been mass denials of asylum claims; asylum seekers are being prosecuted as part of the “zero-tolerance” policy; and those who do get in front of an asylum officer and pass their credible fear interviews face prolonged detention as their cases play out. The Trump administration is also reportedly considering bringing back its family separation policy at the border.
According to Amnesty International’s report this month, transgender women are raped in federal immigration custody and HIV-positive trans women are denied medical care in detention. Groups say this was the case for Roxana Hernandez, a 33-year-old Honduran immigrant who was one of roughly 25 transgender and gender nonconforming people who joined the well-known Central American migrant caravan in April. In May, she died at a detention center in New Mexico after being in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody for about two weeks.
Ferrera Sanchez told Rewire.News that the transgender community in Honduras, even those who chose to join the current migrant caravan, were aware of Hernandez’s death in ICE custody. They are also aware of the conditions they will face at the U.S.-Mexico border. Hondurans are “cognizant of these facts” the organizer said.
“They understand that once they get [to the U.S.-Mexico border], they will get arrested and detained,” Ferrera Sanchez said. “But they choose to make the journey because they are not going to give up on their American dream. They are wiling to take all of these risks because their biggest fear is the idea of having to continue living in Honduras. They are afraid to come back here because of the violence they face, especially our LGBTQ community that faces so much violence from the militarization in the streets. They are taking this journey knowing all that can go wrong because to them it will be worth it if it means they don’t die here.”