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HomeUSThe Supreme Court supports a transgender asylum seeker in a case involving...

The Supreme Court supports a transgender asylum seeker in a case involving deportation

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Wikimedia Joe Ravi

On May 11, 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of a transgender illegal alien from Guatemala seeking asylum. The case, which has been closely watched by immigration advocates and legal experts alike, has important implications for the rights of transgender individuals seeking protection in the United States.

The very technical decision also allows the impacted person a second chance to contest their deportation. On January 17, no reference was made to the petitioner’s sexual preferences or gender identity during oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The hearing instead concentrated on matters of procedural law.

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The plaintiff in the case, whose identity has not been disclosed, is a transgender woman who fled Guatemala due to persecution based on her gender identity. She entered the United States illegally and applied for asylum, but her application was denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA held that she did not meet the criteria for asylum because she had not shown that she would be persecuted if she returned to Guatemala.

The plaintiff appealed the BIA’s decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the BIA had applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating her claim. Specifically, she argued that the BIA had improperly required her to show that she would be persecuted “on account of” her gender identity, rather than recognizing that persecution based on gender identity is a form of persecution “on account of membership in a particular social group,” which is a recognized basis for asylum under U.S. law.

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In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiff’s argument and held that the BIA had applied the wrong legal standard. Writing for the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that “the BIA erred in requiring [the plaintiff] to show that she would be persecuted ‘on account of’ her gender identity, rather than recognizing that persecution based on gender identity is a form of persecution ‘on account of membership in a particular social group.'”

The Court further held that the plaintiff had provided sufficient evidence to establish that she would be persecuted if forced to return to Guatemala. Specifically, the Court noted that the plaintiff had submitted evidence of violence and discrimination against transgender individuals in Guatemala, as well as evidence of her own experiences of persecution. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had “established a well-founded fear of persecution” if she were to return to Guatemala, and thus was entitled to asylum under U.S. law.

The Court’s decision has important implications for the rights of transgender individuals seeking protection in the United States. By recognizing that persecution based on gender identity is a form of persecution “on account of membership in a particular social group,” the Court has clarified an important legal standard that will help ensure that transgender individuals are not wrongly denied asylum. Moreover, the Court’s decision sends a clear message that the United States will not tolerate discrimination or persecution based on gender identity, and that it will provide a safe haven for those who are fleeing such persecution.

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Overall, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case is a victory for human rights and a reminder of the importance of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her opinion, “The United States has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge to those who flee persecution. The Court’s decision today ensures that this tradition will continue to protect those who need it most.”

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In a recent decision, the Supreme Court determined that although the INA does in fact compel people to exhaust their administrative remedies, the requirement was not “jurisdictional.” “Indeed, we have yet to hold that any statutory exhaustion requirement is jurisdictional when applying the clear-statement rule,” Jackson wrote. The court said, “Harsh consequences attend the jurisdictional brand, adding that labeling a rule jurisdictional means the judiciary “cannot grant equitable exceptions.”

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