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Transgender activist Valeria De La Luz Ramos fears life in Mexico, seeks U.S. asylum

LOS ANGELES — Valeria De La Luz Ramos wants asylum in the United States because she fears, as a transgender woman, persecution and torture if she returns to Mexico.

“I met other trans women (in Mexico) who weren’t able to flee in time,” De La Luz Ramos, 46, said in a telephone interview. “They didn’t have the opportunity to leave. Many of them have been assassinated or disappeared.

“If I am deported, I am afraid the same thing may happen to me,” she said.

De La Luz Ramos’ immigration hearing is scheduled to take place Thursday April 20 at the Los Angeles Immigration Court in Downtown.

TRANSPHOBIC VIOLENCE IN MEXICO

Mexico has one of the highest rates of transphobic violence in the world, according to a 2016 report by San Francisco’s Transgender Law Center and the Cornell University Law School in New York.

  • The number of documented murders of transgender people rose to 46 in 2012 from four in 2008, with actual figures likely to be significantly higher.
  • Transgender women in particular have suffered from a fierce backlash against same-sex marriage and other civil rights advances for LGBTQ people in Mexico.
  • Laws protecting gay rights in Mexico do not extend to gender identity discrimination.

Valeria De La Luz Ramos is applying for asylum in the United States because she fears, as a transgender woman, persecution and torture if she returns to Mexico. Photo: Jorge Gutierrez.

DE LA LUZ RAMOS ARRIVES IN U.S.

De La Luz Ramos arrived at a port of entry near San Diego in 2014 and applied for asylum. She was taken into custody by ICE, and an asylum officer conducted a credible fear interview to determine if she was eligible to apply for asylum.

The asylum official determined De La Luz Ramos had a credible fear of returning to Mexico she was placed into deportation proceedings, meaning she began the legal process of getting a date to see an immigration judge, who would determine if her application for asylum would be granted or denied.

As she awaited her immigration hearing date, De La Luz Ramos was allowed entry into the United States.

Shortly thereafter, De La Luz Ramos settled in Los Angeles and became a member of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

ICE DETENTION

In December 2015, De La Luz Ramos was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Orange County after injecting silicone into a woman, Katia De La Riva, who later died from silicone embolism syndrome. De La Luz Ramos did not have a medical license or authorization to perform the procedure in California. De La Luz Ramos served almost two years at Orange County Men’s Jail and was released earlier this year.

“This tragic and unfortunate situation is not the first time it has occurred in the trans community,” said Jorge Gutierrez, director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. “We know that at the end of day trans women are still lacking access to healthcare, housing, employment, and are forced to engage in high risk activities in order to survive.”

Upon her release, De La Luz Ramos was taken into custody by ICE and has been detained at the Santa Ana City Jail, which has a contract with ICE, as she awaits her immigration court date.

A person seeking asylum in the United States can be barred if they have a “particularly serious crime” on their record. De La Luz Ramos’ attorney, Jean Reisz, said the involuntary manslaughter conviction does not meet the legal standard of a “particularly serious crime.”

“There are certain categories of crimes, aggravated felonies, such as murder, rape, kidnapping that are particularly serious crimes,” Reisz said. “Involuntary manslaughter does not reach that level of intent because it is not an aggravated felony.”

But it will be up to the immigration judge to make that decision.

FAMILIA ACTIVISTS

Jorge Gutierrez, director with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, has been friends with De La Luz Ramos since she arrived in Los Angeles and joined the activist group.

Familia has been protesting and demanding that ICE release De La Luz Ramos from detention. Gutierrez said De La Luz Ramos’ conviction was discussed by the group.

Her conviction was definitely something the organization processed, but we also understood the complexity and the pain friends and family members of Katia De La Riva felt and continue to experience,” he said. “We tried our best to hold the pain the community was feeling due to the loss of Katia and come together to intervene and not let the prison system take Valeria away from her community and chosen family.”

Editor’s note: The date for Valeria De La Luz Ramos’ hearing was updated because it was continued.

Members of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement support Valeria De La Luz Ramos’ application for asylum in the U.S. and gather outside the Los Angeles Immigration Court in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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