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The Supreme Court will take on the case of a Transgender Guatemalan woman.
The Supreme Court will take on the case of a Transgender Guatemalan woman. Photo: Pixabay

Supreme Court to take on protection case involving transgender Guatemalan woman

The U.S. Immigration board says Leon Santos-Zacaria did not prove she would be persecuted if deported back to Guatemala.

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In the time since the Supreme Court returned to work on Monday, it has announced a number of cases it will take up this year. One of the cases announced by the Court on Monday is that of a transgender Guatemalan woman who faces deportation after the U.S. Immigration Board said that she did not prove she would be persecuted if deported back to Guatemala. 

The case, Leon Santos-Zacaria v. U.S Attorney General Merrick Garland, involves Santos-Zacaria, a 34-year old transgender woman who was raped in Guatemala because of her sexual identity. 

In what became a routine treatment of harassment, sexual and other physical abuses, as well as the rising number of death threats made against her, she fled the country and came to the U.S. 

Once she arrived in the states, Zacaria sought to withhold her removal. With that, even after acknowledging her rape, the immigration judge overseeing the case to the surprise of Zacaria ruled that she did not suffer past persecution. 

On appeal, the U.S. Immigration Board came to the conclusion that her rape was not an issue of material dispute, and did not constitute past persecution. It also concluded that Santos-Zacaria had not proven she would be persecuted in the future if returned back to her home country. 

The case brings up two questions about the process immigrants are required to follow to appeal rulings that order their deportation. 

In 2019, the BIA said the government had shown improved conditions for LGBTQ+ people in Guatemala, and Santos-Zacaria was unable to prove that she would face likely persecution if she is deported back. Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came to a 2-1 decision that it could not hear her appeal because she brought up arguments that were not made before the board.

In the petition from this past May, her lawyers said the issues outlined by the case are hugely important because they determine if a migrant’s bid for asylum is subject to court review. Santos faces uncertainty as she could lose any chance for a court review if the board refuses to reopen her case. 

She is additionally not eligible for asylum because of a previous deportation in the U.S. Santos and her lawyers are now looking for another form of immigration relief that is known as a withholding of removal. This specific relief is only granted to people who are ordered deported, but then are likely facing persecution based on a protected trait in their respective countries. 

Now, as the case will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, it is up to them to determine if the 5th Circuit was correct in their ruling and also if she was required by law to ask the board to reconsider their decision before going down the path of appeals. 

Santos’ lawyer, Benjamin Osorio, said he was content with the Supreme Court taking up the case.

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