On Sunday, November 11th, a group of approximately 80 Central American migrants, the majority of whom identify as LGBTQ, arrived in the coastal city of Tijuana, Mexico, just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. They are part of the massive caravan of more than 3,600 people traveling north on foot in hopes of being granted asylum in the U.S., but this group broke off after allegedly facing discriminatory treatment from other travelers and local residents.
“Whenever we arrived at a stopping point the LGBT community was the last to be taken into account in every way. So our goal was to change that and say, ‘This time we are going to be first,’” Carlos Mejia, who is from Honduras, said at a press conference on Sunday.
One member of the group, a transgender woman, told reporters that there was “plenty of verbal abuse,” but noted that it was nothing compared to the threats and discrimination she faced in her home country of Honduras.
Originally part of a much larger group of migrant travelers, the LGBTQ members gravitated towards one another while en route and began organizing. After an internal headcount found that they were over 100 people strong, they decided to splinter off on their own, and made seriously good time after RAICES, a Texas-based non-profit agency, raised enough money to pay for bus tickets, four nights of lodging and sent a legal team to Mexico, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Members of the group were initially hesitant to reveal the name of the organization that funded the last part of their journey, but after Fox News made an issue of their anonymity, RAICES took responsibility on Twitter.
“We did not contact them; they learned from our group thanks to the media and decided to help us,” Mejia said.
As a result, according to NPR, the group — which includes several children, as well as numerous transgender men and women from countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador — arrived several weeks ahead of majority of the caravan, including the largest group of approximately 3,000 people, which is still 1,400 miles south in Guadalajara, Mexico. A second smaller group of approximately 350 migrants arrived in Tijuana on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.
Most members of the LGBTQ group are expected to seek asylum in the United States as early as Thursday, on grounds that they are members of a persecuted class. Other migrants are said to be fleeing gang violence, political persecution and severe poverty.
“We are fleeing a country where there’s a lot of crime against us,” a transgender woman, who wasn’t identified, told reporters.
In an interview with Telemundo 20, Honduran migrant Erick Dubon described how poverty and an inability to find work forced him into prostitution. Sleeping with men for money made him increasingly vulnerable to physical violence, and Telemundo reported that his body is covered in scars from one such assault.
Nehemias de Leon, who is from Guatemala, brought few possessions on the journey, the most important being documentation which he says proves that, as a gay man, his life is in danger in his home country. While the 2,400-mile-long journey was arduous and frightening, de Leon told reporters he had no other choice but to try.
“It would be a death sentence,” he said about the possibility of returning to Guatemala.
The chances of being granted asylum are slim, especially in light of President Donald Trump’s largely false and inflammatory rhetoric characterizing the migrant caravan as “an invasion.” Last week, Trump took steps to deny asylum to those who crossed the border illegally, a move that is already being challenged in court, although it wouldn’t impact any members of the caravan who sought legal asylum by applying at a port of entry, like San Diego, San Ysidro or Otay Mesa.
Though the group has not crossed into the United States, they are already dealing with discriminatory rhetoric from residents south of the border. Mexican immigration officials arranged for small groups of migrants to rent temporary housing in the upscale community of Coronado in Playas de Tijuana, angering local residents who said they should have been warned. Not unlike Trump’s claims that the caravan is full of violent criminals, some locals said they feared “someone” in the group could hurt them, and questioned whether they were being funded by narco traffickers.
Santiago Alvarez, a police officer who stood guard in front of one rental house, told the Washington Post that locals have been seen “knocking on the door, shouting things, telling them to leave.”
“A few of the migrants left to go buy a couple of things, and they were harassed and insulted in the street,” he said. “This president, Trump, this wall — it is all so ridiculous. We’ve had migration for years, and these people just want to get to the U.S. They just want something better.”