Honduran Women and Sexual/Gender Minorities Seeking Asylum in the United States
In recent years, the influx of Central American asylum seekers to the United States-Mexico border has garnered international attention and inspired heated debate regarding human rights, particularly in northern Central American countries, Mexico, and the United States. This investigation of the issue will adopt a context focused specifically on the demographic of Honduran women, and sexual and gender minorities (SGM), and it will be divided into two main sections. The first will present evidence of the unique risks and challenges encountered by women and SGM in Honduras, during the migratory journey through Mexico to the border with the United States, and after either being granted or denied asylum. The second part of this essay will interpret the risks and challenges faced by asylum-seeking Honduran women and SGM as evidence of human rights abuses on the part of Honduras and the United States, as well as suggest potential solutions, and address the overall significance of this issue. As a central thesis, I propose that at any given stage, Honduran women and SGM seeking asylum in the United States experience an increased susceptibility to a diverse range of negative physical, emotional, and psychological effects that reflect failures of the two aforementioned states to uphold international human rights standards; however, there are solutions that both Honduras and the United States can pursue in order to facilitate the experiences of these demographics.
1. Background Information & Context
First and foremost, I will define some terms and contextual delimitations in order to coherently present the following evidence and arguments. Geographically, the primary focus is the Central American country of Honduras; however, many of the issues discussed are also applicable to and prevalent in Guatemala and El Salvador as well (Alberto 206). The chronology for this essay is 2010 to present day, or as recently as reliable academic information has been published on the issue. This timeline does not mean to suggest that mass migrations from Honduras and other Central American countries did not occur before 2010; rather, it is meant to reflect both an increase in scale and in the international awareness of the issue in recent years (La Caravana). Furthermore, while a diverse range of individuals comprise these migration movements, the demographics of focus in this essay will be asylum-seeking women and SGM, a group which should be understood in this context as “individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer and/or intersex” (“Sexual”). The term “asylum seeker,” according to Amnesty International, refers to someone “who is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who [has not] yet been legally recognized as a refugee.” A refugee is essentially an asylum seeker that has had their request approved and has therefore obtained official, legal permission to remain in a country that will provide protection (“Refugees”). An important component of the status of confirmed asylum seekers, or refugees, is that “[una] vez que ha concedido el asilo, éste debe ser respetado por todos los demás Estados” (Gómez-Robledo 482). Lastly, according to Amnesty International “[there] is no internationally accepted legal definition of a migrant;” however I will use the term to refer to individuals travelling from their country of origin to another country in order to seek asylum (“Refugees”). The specific understandings of these concepts as stated above will be key in the elaboration of this essay.
Before delving into specifics, however, I would like to offer the brief disclaimer that, by investigating the challenges faced by Honduran women and SGM, in no way do I intend to diminish the difficulties experienced by all asylum seekers. That is, this process is not easy for cisgender straight men either and other factors-race, class, disability etc.-pose challenges unique in nature and increased in number to certain demographics of asylum seekers as well. Instead, my intention in investigating the experiences of women and SGM travelling from Honduras to the United States is to highlight the specific ways in which the intersection of gender and sexual orientation with migration status further complicates an already complex and grueling situation. In other words, under no circumstances and for no individual do I intend to suggest that undergoing the physically and emotionally strenuous process of seeking asylum in the United States is a simple task; rather, I would like to call attention to a specific array of risks and challenges that often characterize the experiences of two traditionally marginalized demographics during these migratory journeys.
2. Challenges Faced in Honduras
Reading these experiences necessarily requires, first and foremost, an understanding of the motivations behind why many Honduran women and SGM feel compelled to leave their country of origin and undertake the journey to the United States-Mexico border. Categorically, these motivations can be understood as belonging to one or both of two larger umbrella classifications: inadequate environment and/or harmful actions. An inadequate environment can be fostered by factors like poor living conditions, insecurity, and instability. For example, early in life, a general lack of access to an adequate education can result in an array of negative long-term effects, like children dropping out of school early; in 2014, there was a ninety-two percent net enrollment for children in grades one to six, which lowered to forty-five percent once they reached grades seven to nine, and ultimately dropped to twenty-six percent for grades ten to eleven (Alberto 211–212). Later in life, the insufficiencies in or blatant lack of education can translate into scarce employment opportunities-of which there are already few in Honduras-and somewhat consequently, gang activity (Castañeda Romero 253–255; Quijada 7–8). Inadequate public services tend to be evident in the health care system as well, particularly in the realm of mental health, as the state is often unable to sufficiently address the varying health concerns of women and SGM, which can be related to domestic and sexual violence. Transgender individuals in particular tend to face roadblocks when attempting to access health care services due to severe stigmatization and the threat of violence (Castañeda Romero 255; Quijada 6; Alberto 207).
Problems with the education and health care systems are linked to the high levels of poverty in which many Hondurans live (Alberto 209–212; Quijada 9–10). It is estimated that sixty percent of Hondurans live in poverty, of which forty percent live in extreme poverty, and households run by women tend to earn thirty percent less than households run by men (Alberto 211). These severe cases of poverty, along with instability and insecurity, take part in a vicious cycle of contribution and causation in Honduras. That is, poverty helps cause instability and insecurity in the country, and, in turn, instability and insecurity contribute to extreme poverty rates. Instability and insecurity in Honduras can result from the high levels of government corruption, which negatively affect the state’s ability to address serious problems like poverty and inadequate access to public services that contribute to an inadequate living environment. Additionally, while government corruption affects the entire population, one way in which it tends to impact women specifically is related to domestic violence. For example, the Domestic Violence Act of 1997 theoretically ensures Honduran women the right to live free of violence; however, the ineffectiveness of the government caused by corruption means that the state more often than not fails to hold perpetrators accountable, and many times perpetrators are actually members of the institutions responsible for protecting women from domestic violence. This general lack of accountability, in conjunction with fear of retaliation, often discourages women and girls from reporting any abuse they may experience (Alberto 212–213). For many, this renders their environment unlivable, as they are forced to cope silently with the emotional and physical traumas that result from domestic abuse and the lack of resources to address it.
Domestic abuse is also a prime example of the category of harmful actions- exploitation, discrimination, abuse, violence-which work in an arguably more explicit manner to cause Honduran women and SGM to flee their country of origin. Of course, this issue is neither exclusive to nor inherent of Honduras or Latin America; in fact, UN Women estimates that “[thirty-five percent] of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner… at some point in their lives,” and some national studies have found this percentage to be as high as seventy. Such instances of violence against women have been reported and studied in countries and regions all over the world, including Australia, the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and the United States (“Facts”). In other words, while domestic abuse may be a key factor in motivating many women to leave Honduras, this phenomenon should not be understood as exclusive to Honduras or Latin America as a whole. However, by studying Honduras specifically, Castañeda Romero and Cardona Huerta have found that harmful actions, such as domestic abuse, can either include or lead to general threats and harassment (252). Additionally, in 2012, seventy-five percent of the 16,000 reports of allegations of violence against women in Honduras resulted from intra-family or domestic violence, and these statistics only represent instances that have been reported, which is to suggest that abuse most likely occurs at a much higher rate in reality (Alberto 212). Incidents of violence perpetrated by partners and other family members are prevalent both for cisgender and transgender women and can leave many, especially transgender women, internally displaced, which can result in turning to sex work and, consequently, increased vulnerability to HIV or sexually transmitted diseases and drug addiction (Castañeda Romero 253).
In addition to the occurrence of transphobic and sexist discrimination in the domestic sphere in Honduras, criminal gangs can also provide significant sources of danger for women and SGM. Cinthya Alberto and Mariana Chilton argue that these groups can represent both a symptom and a cause of an understanding of women and children as inferior to adult men. That is, gangs have the potential to provide a channel for individuals to express and practice an unhealthy version of masculinity based on domination and violence, and, in turn, many members reproduce and reinforce this version of masculinity in everyday society. Criminal gangs’ influence on Honduran society often results in the implementation of dominant patriarchal structures and a culture of machismo that, at the very least, excuse, and more often than not encourage or directly perpetrate, violence against those who do not conform to traditionally masculine identities (Alberto 214; Castañeda Romero 268–269). Essentially, due to the physical and emotional damage caused by various factors that can be summarized as environmental inadequacies and harmful actions, many Honduran women and SGM find daily life in their country of origin unbearable, which often influences the decision to leave Honduras in search of a safer, healthier, more opportunistic life elsewhere.
3. Challenges Faced in Mexico and at the Border
Unfortunately, despite the fact that women and SGM seek to escape persecution in their country of origin, the journey in search of better living conditions often takes place in an environment of discrimination and violence not unlike that of Honduras. The difficulties that characterize the journey of Honduran women and SGM through Mexico to the border can include physical difficulties, challenges posed by the state, and threats from organized crime groups. For one thing, many migrants travel as far as 120 kilometers a day, hitching rides when possible, but otherwise completing the journey on foot (La Caravana). These lengthy routes traverse dangerous terrain, such as mountains, as well as extreme climates, like the desert. As a result, many migrants suffer from dehydration, lack of food, and falls from great heights. Some individuals attempting the journey from Honduras to the United States die before even reaching the border as a result of the route’s immense physical difficulty (París Pombo 489).
Additionally, Honduran migrants are more often than not forced to fend for themselves during the journey, as the Mexican state provides very little assistance; in fact, it often actively works against them and some individuals that work for the state have connections with organized crime groups as well. For example, Mexican military forces have set up multiple federal police blockades along the route in an attempt to prevent migrants from continuing north toward the border with the United States. Additionally, authorities stationed at these roadblocks can be susceptible to bribes and infiltration by members of criminal groups. For example, in 2015 a Colegio de la Frontera Norte study of an area near the border city of Reynosa “found two [Instituto Nacional de Migración] roadblocks devoted to extortion or detention of Central American migrants headed for the United States.” These practices, beyond basic illegality, can have dangerous consequences for migrants, such as forced disappearances, kidnappings, and sexual violence (La Caravana; París Pombo 492–493, 500). More specifically women and SGM are particularly susceptible to human trafficking and sexual exploitation perpetrated by organized crime groups, especially in border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez (París Pombo 493; Alberto 207). Additionally, transgender women travelling through Mexico are often subject to mis-assignment to male quarters when staying in migrant shelters or detention centers, interruption of hormonal treatments, and difficulties with legal documents that do not reflect their gender identity (Castañeda Romero 263–267). Essentially, many of the institutions put in place in Mexico to address mass migration from Central American countries like Honduras can actually add substantial elements of danger to these journeys, especially when members of the state have connections with criminal activity.
However, the dangers posed by the state and organized crime in Mexico are not solely responsible for the difficult circumstances in which many migrants seeking asylum find themselves; Honduran women and SGM also face significant challenges and threats from United States border patrol authorities. For one thing, many migrants do not receive sufficient information on the asylum process and are therefore left to trust officials that do not necessarily maintain objective or justice-oriented perspectives when it comes to immigration processes (Castañeda Romero 268). Furthermore, inhumane conditions-severe overcrowding; low temperatures; lack of access to food, water, basic hygiene necessities, and health care services-plague many of the detention centers holding Central American asylum seekers, and according to María Dolores París Pombo, these conditions result in “physical and emotional stress” (491). Additional distress can occur as a result of the dehumanizing processes of separating children from their parents and “the mass trials of migrants led in chains before a judge and required to plead guilty” (París Pombo 495). Essentially, the conditions that asylum seekers encounter at the United States-Mexico border are, at best, insufficient and, at worst, inhumane.
And, while all Honduran asylum seekers are forced to endure the aforementioned inadequate conditions, women and SGM can be subject to additional violations as well. For example, women and SGM have reported various types of abuse at the hands of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and “verbal abuse is significantly more frequent for women than for men” (Alberto 207; París Pombo 491, 495). The increased abuse experienced by individuals who do not conform to traditionally masculine identities appears to be the result of institutionalized structural violence, as well as the strong correlation between masculine and military ideologies exhibited by border patrol agents. That is, the ninety-five percent male United States Border Patrol embodies one side of a severe power imbalance, a dynamic which cultivates a culture that allows for the sexual abuse and rape of asylum seekers and even, at times, some of the female border patrol agents. In the words of París Pombo, “sexual violence is not about sex but rather about power [and] should be explained, therefore, as a gendered effect of military ideology” (491).
Extreme power imbalances can exist, as well, between immigration judges and queer asylum seekers, particularly in a process known as “reverse-covering.” Reverse-covering essentially forces lesbian and gay individuals to “prove their sexual orientation to the immigration judge” in order to justify their claim for asylum on the grounds of having experienced persecution in their country of origin as a result of their identity (Berasi 209). According to Kateri Berasi, this process can have a profoundly negative impact on affected individuals’ mental health-for example, post-traumatic stress disorder-and can even result in death if the individual is ultimately returned to their country of origin and outed (210). In sum, after experiencing discriminatory persecution by a variety of actors both in their country of origin and on the journey through Mexico, Honduran women and SGM, as a result of their gender identity and/or sexuality, encounter various abuses at the United States-Mexico border as well. In other words, the challenges these demographics face while simply seeking a better quality of life can be extremely severe and remarkably persistent.
4. Challenges Faced after Being Granted or Denied Asylum
Having provided examples of the difficulties that many Honduran women and SGM encounter during their journeys to seek asylum, I will now compare and contrast the experiences of those who are granted official asylum status and those who are denied. In either scenario, of course, asylum seekers are subject to conditions that result in lasting emotional and physical trauma. For example, Honduran women who end up in the United States are relatively unlikely to report abuse and violence “due to mistrust, cultural expectations, documentation status, or lack of support within their own communities” (Alberto 208). In fact, some asylum-seeking women with refugee status in the United States even face the threat of murder. One such case is that of a teenage girl, referred to as “Jennifer,” who fled to the United States in 2014 in order to escape an abusive boyfriend who, despite her requests, refused to leave the gang he had joined in Honduras. According to Alberto and Chilton, she “received health care services for vaccinations and a general physical examination and there did not seem to be concern for [her] well-being beyond these services,” and Jennifer was subsequently relocated to live with her father in Virginia (208). Unfortunately, Jennifer’s boyfriend was able to follow her and, in 2017, he killed her in a murder-suicide. This case demonstrates the United States’ failure to provide sufficient resources to support female asylum seekers for whom the country is responsible from dangers like domestic abuse and violence. Furthermore, Alberto and Chilton argue that many of the mechanisms the United States has put in place allegedly to protect female refugees are focused more on “punishing children that are involved in gang activity [than] the potential trauma to which the young people may have been exposed” (Alberto 208–209). In other words, while the United States claims its immigration policies revolve around promises to keep innocent, vulnerable individuals safe, Jennifer’s case clearly demonstrates that, on the contrary, the country is much more concerned with demonizing or criminalizing certain demographics than actually addressing in an effective manner the needs of populations at risk of either initiating or experiencing violent interactions.
A study by Julia Mueller et al. further confirms that many asylum seekers, regardless of whether their requests are approved or denied, show evidence of having experienced significant trauma. The rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are around fifty percent for both groups, and some of the specific feelings reported are “post-migration stress, insecurity regarding their legal status, and ongoing fear of repatriation and persecution” (Mueller et al. 185–186). The study also concludes that asylum seekers lack access to adequate health care services, stating that successful asylum seekers have access to mental health care in theory, but that “specialist centres are rare and overcrowded,” while failed asylum seekers “have limited or no access to non-emergency health care, including mental health consultations” (Mueller et al. 186–187). Lastly, the authors conclude that while the results for both groups-successful and failed asylum seekers-show negative mental health effects, “[failed asylum seekers] were less satisfied with their actual living conditions and also reported lower quality of life as compared to [asylum seekers]” (Mueller et al. 187). In sum, this study demonstrates that any individual who seeks asylum is relatively likely to experience negative mental health effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and that those whose requests are denied are likely to report even greater difficulties.
5. Human Rights Violations: The United States and Honduras
Having outlined some of the diverse challenges faced by Honduran asylum seekers in general and, more specifically, women and SGM, the second part of this essay will begin by investigating the ways in which these challenges exemplify human rights violations on the part of both Honduras and the United States. Firstly, the Honduran state violates the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to “[free] and equal (1), life, liberty, security (3), freedom of movement, residence (13), property (17), work (23), adequate standard of living (25), education (26) [and] culture (27)” when the high levels of corruption in state apparatuses like the police facilitate gang control over certain territories within the country (Alberto 215). This inability or unwillingness of the state to address properly the problem of gang violence can cause fear for individuals that live in certain territories, which creates an inadequate standard of living and threatens the freedoms of life, liberty, and security, as well as freedom of movement and residence. Similarly, the United States infringes on the right to freedom of movement and the right to an adequate standard of living with institutions like ICE, an organization that promotes constant fear of deportation for failed and successful asylum seekers alike (Alberto 215). Additionally, according to the United Nations, the UDHR is “a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations [detailing] fundamental human rights to be universally protected” (“Universal”). Therefore, both Honduras and the United States have an obligation to comply with these standards, and as a result of the aforementioned violations, both nations have failed to uphold crucial aspects of the international community’s agreed upon understanding of human rights.
Furthermore, according to Shirley Llain Arenilla, the United States has violated the Principle of Non-Refoulement as established in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention of Relating to the Status of Refugees. This principle maintains that states who have granted refugee status to asylum seekers cannot forcibly return them to their countries of origin, where they could potentially face persecution (Llain Arenilla 285). Gómez-Robledo Verduzco also confirms that, if an asylum seeker has officially been granted refugee status, all states are obligated to respect this decision (482). The United States fails even to approach complying with this international standard, for example, by intentionally making it difficult for asylum seekers to physically enter its territory-a necessary component in the process of seeking asylum and ultimately obtaining refugee status-with mechanisms like fences or walls, and returning them to their countries of origin. In other words, the United States has put in place various mechanisms designed to catch and return asylum seekers en masse before they even have the opportunity for their requests to be addressed explicitly. Additionally, Honduras, along with Guatemala and El Salvador, and the United States have violated the Principle of Non-Refoulement by agreeing to bilateral and multilateral Asylum Cooperative Agreements, which essentially allow the United States to return individuals whose claims for asylum have not yet been processed to their countries of origin where, of course, they may continue to face severe persecution. In some cases, these asylum seekers are not even returned to their actual country of origin, and instead to a “third country” in the Northern Triangle. In other words, Hondurans seeking asylum in the United States run the risk of being returned not just to Honduras, but potentially to Guatemala or El Salvador as well, where they would face inadequate environmental conditions and harmful actions similar to those of Honduras, however without any of the connections they are more likely to have established in their country of origin (Llain Arenilla 286–288; United States). Essentially, in addition to a gross disregard for the wellbeing of other humans, returning asylum seekers to countries where they may face persecution demonstrates a clear violation of international legal standards as established by the Principle of Non-Refoulement.
More specific to the demographic discussed in this essay, the Honduran state is guilty of violating the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), specifically the rights to “[condemn] discrimination (2), advancement (3), prejudices (5), traffic/exploitation (6)… economic and social life (13), same rights as men (15), [and] marriage and family relations (16)” (Alberto 206, 214–215). Honduras does not sufficiently uphold these ideals, for example, by failing to address adequately issues of gender inequality like domestic violence and the lack of resources to protect primarily female victims from such abuse. Again, this issue is far from exclusive to Honduras or Latin America; however, Honduras is one of many international states, along with the United States, that fails to deal with this problem in an appropriate manner. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, Honduran women tend to experience higher levels of poverty than Honduran men, and men are more likely to have control in marriages and families. These disparities, in general, reflect a failure of the state to provide and uphold the same rights and opportunities for women as it does for men. Similarly, the United States is guilty of violating the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which guarantees “[the] protection of refugees who are minors, in particular unaccompanied children and girls,” as evidenced by the abuses and mistreatment inflicted upon these demographics in the detention centers at the United States-Mexico border and, for example, the state’s failure in the aforementioned case study to protect Jennifer from domestic violence that resulted in her murder (Alberto 215). In sum, both Honduras and the United States, in addition to violating various human rights standards applicable to all demographics of asylum seekers, have also violated rights specifically outlined for women and girls by failing to provide fundamental protections and equalities agreed upon by the United Nations and the international community (“Convention on”; “Convention relating”).
With regard to SGM individuals, Honduras and the United States are responsible for violations of fundamental human rights as well. For example, according to a 2011 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, states are obligated
1. To protect the right to life, liberty and security of persons irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity… 2. To prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity… 3. To protect the right to privacy and against arbitrarydetention on the basis of sexual orientation of gender identity [and] 4. protect individuals from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (United).
In short, states are required to award the same rights and protections to SGM individuals as they are to cisgender, straight individuals. Honduras fails to meet this standard, for example, by failing to prevent discrimination against transgender women in the form of marginalization, lack of education and employment opportunities, and violence perpetrated by criminal gangs, the state, and individuals’ families (Castañeda Romero 253–256). On the part of the United States, the process of reverse-covering that many lesbian and gay individuals are forced to undergo violates these rights, as it is a form of degrading treatment due to its potential to cause negative mental health effects in afflicted individuals. This report, along with the UDHR and the CEDAW, are only a few examples of the various international legal standards that Honduras and the United States have violated in their treatment of Honduran women and SGM seeking asylum at the United States-Mexico border, but they highlight some of the most fundamental principles that, in theory, legitimate states in the international community agree to recognize. Furthermore, Honduras and the United States are guilty of human rights violations when they fail to guarantee fundamental rights and protections to asylum seekers in general, and these failures can be even more accentuated when the asylum-seeking individuals are female or SGM.
6. Potential Solutions & Significance
Evidently, the current state of the asylum-seeking process in the United States is unacceptable both from a moral perspective and from an internationally recognized legal perspective; this essay, therefore, will now present various preliminary solutions proposed by experts seeking to improve current conditions as well as to avoid future transgressions. One way in which to approach this problem is to divide solutions into two categories: conceptual changes and concrete steps. Conceptual changes, which entail shifting the way in which one conceives of and discusses issues relating to the asylum-seeking process, should, in theory, take place both on an individual level and on a public level. One reason for this dual-level necessity is that conceptual changes have to do, in many ways, with language. For example, immigration is often discussed, particularly in the United States, from a negative perspective. That is, politicians and citizens alike use dehumanizing language-terms like “illegals” or “aliens”-in order to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment that can have severely detrimental consequences for these individuals. In response, Alberto and Chilton suggest that policymakers in the United States use different language that does not have the effect of “othering” immigrants (218). One concrete example of this linguistic change, as inspired by Mueller et al., would be to refer to individuals who choose to remain in the United States after having their refugee status denied as “migrants,” “immigrants,” or even “failed asylum seekers” instead of “illegals” or “aliens.” This change in terminology could help promote an ideology that frames undocumented individuals living in the United States as who they are-people who need protection from persecution in their countries of origin-as opposed to who they are not-dangerous, inhuman criminals. Essentially, a shift in language, while seemingly miniscule in the short term, could ultimately encourage a more humanizing understanding of individuals seeking asylum in the United States, which could, in turn, encourage more forgiving policies and better treatment of asylum seekers in general.
Another conceptual solution, as proposed by Sara L. McKinnon, is to lean into transnational publicity, specifically “‘women’s rights as human rights’ activism” (19). This theoretical approach proposes using to one’s advantage the recent international trend of increasing the focus on women’s rights issues by framing them as an inherent component of human rights. McKinnon argues that this way of conceptualizing the challenges faced by female asylum seekers generates “the rhetorical pressure needed for the state to recognize intimate gender violence as sufficiently political and public to warrant these women’s incorporation” (19). In other words, international outrage at issues like domestic violence and, ideally, the subsequent application of pressure to address these issues makes it increasingly difficult for governments to continue to turn a blind eye to, or even commit, such violations. At the very least, transnational publicity has the potential to force some states to enact performative measures in response to issues that negatively affect women, which, while likely insufficient at first, could provide a foundation for more meaningful change in the future.
These rhetorical and conceptual shifts are important aspects in improving the situation at the border; however, specific, concrete steps are the other component necessary to enact genuine change. For example, the United States government needs to provide adequate screening and health care services for women that reach the border, and it needs to discontinue its practice of inhumane detention. These improved screenings should look for any potential health issues related to factors like violence and psychological or emotional trauma, and they should be conducted by trained professionals rather than ICE or border patrol agents, who should undergo further training in order to increase competence and sensibility to the needs of asylum seekers, specifically those who are part of marginalized demographics. Alberto and Chilton also advocate for policy change and the implementation of systems to directly address asylum-seeking women affected by domestic violence in the United States. Both of these components necessarily include a reevaluation of the current practices and authorities in place in order to fix inadequate conditions and treatment, as well as hold abusers accountable (Alberto 218–220). Mueller et al. further support this conclusion that countries in which migrants seek asylum have a responsibility to improve their health screening processes and systems of care in order to sufficiently and effectively address the physical and mental problems that many asylum seekers experience (188).
Berasi also suggests measures that the institutions in place at the border can implement, specifically with regard to immigration judges who force lesbian and gay asylum seekers to partake in the process of reverse-covering. In a suggestion similar to requiring improved training programs for border authorities, Berasi argues that it is crucial for immigration judges to understand the traumatic experiences to which marginalized demographics of migrants-in this case lesbian and gay individuals-are often subject. Specifically, immigration judges should educate themselves on issues that are relevant to SGM individuals, especially “[the] risks associated with the coming out process” for queer asylum seekers (224). In theory, increasing and improving the education requirements of immigration judges and border officials alike would help to decrease the negative emotional and psychological effects experienced by lesbian and gay asylum seekers, particularly those who are forced to undergo reverse-covering, ideally by eliminating the need for this process to occur in the first place (Berasi 223–224).
Another recommendation geared toward improving conditions under which Honduran women and SGM find themselves when seeking asylum has to do with reevaluating international relations between Honduras and the United States. Specifically, Alberto and Chilton recommend that the United States contribute support and funding to Honduran groups like the Association for a More Just Society and the Alliance for Peace and Justice, which have been able to contribute to positive change in some Honduran communities through initiatives like “citizen grassroots and media campaigns” (220–221). Furthermore, these organizations work independently of the Honduran government and are therefore less likely to be affected by the corruption that can occur in government institutions. Essentially, this suggestion encourages the United States’ involvement in Honduran affairs from afar, so as to promote agency and leadership roles for Honduran citizens instead of following the model that historically the United States has adopted in its relationships with many Central American countries. That is, instead of sponsoring coups and involving itself politically in ways that result in civil wars, the United States should peripherally support Honduran civil society with primarily financial resources (Alberto 220–221).
Lastly, Quijada and Sierra provide suggestions for measures that Honduras can take in order to address the conditions that cause many women and SGM to leave their country of origin in the first place. One such suggestion is to “[implement programs] aimed at increasing school attendance for secondary level students, and/or [facilitate] the transition from the education system to the formal labour market” (17). Improvements in the realm of Honduran education could help lower levels of gang activity, which would ultimately begin to chip away at the aforementioned dominant patriarchal structures these groups help promote, as well as the violence they perpetrate. Additionally, focusing on the transition from school to the work force has the potential to provide more employment opportunities for women and SGM in Honduras, which would ultimately promote economic empowerment, ideally reducing disparities in poverty levels between men and women. Furthermore, Quijada and Sierra insist that in order to adequately address the issue of mass migration-in particular undocumented migration-from Honduras, more research on the subject is necessary. That is, academia has yet to sufficiently analyze the reasons for which many Hondurans are compelled to leave their country of origin and seek asylum elsewhere (17). However, by investing in future, more in depth studies of these circumstances, both the state of Honduras and the international community can have access to crucial information necessary to implement improvement measures in Honduras, which, in turn, would decrease the need for many women and SGM to undertake the difficult journey to seek asylum in the first place. Essentially, what these concrete steps boil down to is improved education and training for the authorities responsible for dealing directly with women and SGM asylum seekers, and recommendations for policies that both Honduras and the United States can implement in order to reduce the need for migration in the first place, and facilitate the process for those that do seek asylum.
Finally, I would like to address the significance of this essay. First and foremost, in no way do I intend to portray Honduran migrants, specifically women and SGM, as victims without agency; in fact, most sources I have encountered highlight the resilience and bravery of individuals whose circumstances have necessitated their migration in search of better lives for themselves and their loved ones. Furthermore, I do not mean to suggest that forms of identity-based discrimination like sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are unique to or rampantly more prevalent in either Honduras or Latin America as compared to the rest of the world. The intention of this essay, rather, has been to narrow in on a specific demographic-women and SGM-in one country-Honduras-in order to investigate as concretely as possible some of the risks and challenges that many of these individuals face, ultimately suggesting that these conditions should be neither an inherent nor an expected component of the asylum-seeking process. That is, there is an array of solutions both Honduras and the United States can pursue in order to both streamline the asylum process as well as improve the experiences of the individuals who partake in it. Essentially, seeking asylum is a complex issue that is, and has always been, incredibly relevant and important in the international community; therefore, it is an issue that deserves attention, in this case, in the form of further research and investigation.
In conclusion, Honduran asylum seekers face immense physical, psychological, and emotional challenges throughout the journey from their country of origin to the United States-Mexico border, and demographics such as women and SGM encounter escalated versions of such challenges. These difficulties directly reflect the ways in which both Honduras and the United States have violated international human rights agreements, despite the existence of viable alternatives to improve conditions for these individuals. Essentially, the exceedingly negative experiences of Honduran women and SGM seeking asylum demonstrate various ways in which Honduras and the United States have abused these individuals’ fundamental human rights, and in order to rectify these transgressions, both states have an obligation to pursue more humane solutions. Recognizing international standards for human rights, particularly in scenarios in which they have been violated, is an immensely important exercise that needs to be continuously practiced. That is, the international community has a responsibility to hold accountable those who have violated human rights, ideally so as to prevent such transgressions from occurring in the future.
Alberto, Cinthya and Mariana Chilton. “Transnational Violence Against Asylum Seeking Women and Children: Honduras and the United States-Mexico Border.” Human Rights Review, vol. 20, no. 2, 2019, 205–227, https://link-springer-com. proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/article/10.1007%2Fs12142–019–0547–5.
Berasi, Kateri. “Gay and Lesbian Asylum Seekers in the United States: The Interplay of Sexual Orientation Identity Development, Reverse-Covering, and Mental Health.” LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees from a Legal and Political Perspective: Persecution, Asylum and Integration, edited by Arzu Güler et al., Springer, 2019, 209–225, https://link-springer-com.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/ chapter/10.1007/978–3–319–91905–8_11
Castañeda Romero, María Paula and Sofía Cardona Huerta. “Seeking Protection as a Transgender Refugee Woman: From Honduras and El Salvador to Mexico.” LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees from a Legal and Political Perspective: Persecution, Asylum and Integration, edited by Arzu Güler et al., Springer, 2019, 251–272, https://link-springer-com.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca. chapter/10.1007/978–3–319–91905–8_13.
“Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women New York, 18 December 1979.” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cedaw. aspx. Accessed 1 Dec. 2019.
“Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ statusofrefugees.aspx. Accessed 1 Dec. 2019.
“Facts and figures: Ending violence against women.” UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/factsand-figures. Accessed 12 Feb. 2020.
Gómez-Robledo Verduzco, Alonso. “El derecho de asilo en el sistema jurídico internacional.” Temas selectos de derecho internacional, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas -UNAM, 2004, pp. 481–494, https://ebookcentral. proquest.com/lib/mcgill/reader.action?docID=3190550.
La Caravana: On the Road with the Migrant Caravan. Films Media Group, 2018, https://fod.infobase.com/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=188496. Accessed 30 Nov. 2019.
Llain Arenilla, Shirley. “Violations to the Principle of Non-Refoulement Under the Asylum Policy of the United States.” Anuario Mexicano de Derecho Internacional, vol. 15, no. 1, 2015, pp. 283–322, https://www.sciencedirect.com/ science/article/pii/S1870465415000094.
McKinnon, Sara L. “Transnational Publicity, Gender-Based Violence, and Central American Women’s Asylum Cases.” Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in U.S. Law and Politics, edited by Sara L. McKinnon, University of Illinois Press, 2017, pp. 19–38, https://illinois-universitypressscholarship-com.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca. view/10.5406/illinois/9780252040450.001.0001/upso-9780252040450-chapter-002.
Mueller, Julia et al. “Mental health of failed asylum seekers as compared with pending and temporarily accepted asylum seekers.” European Journal of Public Health, vol. 21, no. 2, 2011, pp. 184–189, https://academic-oup-com.proxy3.library. mcgill.ca/eurpub/article/21/2/184/496256?searchresult=1.
París Pombo, María Dolores. “Violence at the US-Mexico Border.” The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises, edited by Cecilia Menjívar et al., Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 485–500, https://www-oxfordhandbooks-com.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/view/10.1093/ oxfordhb/9780190856908.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780190856908-e-39.
Quijada, José Alejandro and José David Sierra. “Understanding Undocumented Migration from Honduras.” International Migration, vol. 57, no. 4, 2019, pp. 3–20, https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/doi/full/10.1111/ imig.12429?sid=worldcat.org.
“Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants.” Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/refugees-asylum-seekers-and-migrants/. Accessed 1 Dec. 2019.
“Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://dpcpsi.nih.gov/sgmro. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Discrimination/A. HRC.19.41_English.pdf. Accessed 1 Dec. 2019.
United States Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. “Implementing Bilateral and Multilateral Asylum Cooperative Agreements Under the Immigration and Nationality Act.” https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/11/19/2019-25137/ implementing-bilateral-and-multilateral-asylum-cooperative-agreements-underthe-immigration-and. Accessed 3 Dec. 2019.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/. Accessed 1 Dec. 2019.
Originally published at https://issuu.com.