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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Transgender Guatemalan Seeking Asylum

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a transgender Guatemalan who fought deportation on the grounds that he would face persecution if returned to his country. 


Reportedly, the court’s unanimous decision in favor of Leon Santos-Zaracria will give him another opportunity to argue that immigration officials in the United States were wrong to reject his bid to stay in the country (via the Associated Press):

Lawyers for Santos-Zacaria, now in her mid-30s, said she first fled to the United States after being raped as a young teenager and threatened with death because of her gender identity in a country that has targeted the LGBTQ community.

But a U.S. immigration judge found that she did not make a strong enough case that she would face persecution if sent back to Guatemala.

The issue at the Supreme Court was more technical, whether federal immigration law was flexible enough to allow her another day in court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against her on that point, but other appellate courts had ruled in favor of immigrants on the same issue.

The Supreme Court ruled in an opinion by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson that the 5th Circuit was wrong.

Santos-Zaracria reportedly left Guatemala as a teenager and was here for a short time before being deported. Ten years later, Santos-Zaracria came back to the U.S. and was taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials. Santos-Zaracria testified that he was raped by a neighbor in the town where he was born and that the townspeople would kill him. From 2008 to 2018, Santos-Zaracria reportedly spent most of his time in Mexico, but then tried to come to America when a Mexican gang raped and assaulted him.


The State Department has found that Guatemala has done little to protect transgender people from threats of violence. According to ABC News, a study done by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that 30,9000 LGBTQ people applied for asylum in the United States from 2012 to 2017. Out of the 4,000 seeking asylum due to fear of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, the majority were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

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