At just 12 years old, Ariana found herself living on the streets of El Salvador when her mother kicked her out of their home after Ariana told her she is transgender. “I told her ‘I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I felt myself to be a woman,’ ” said Ariana, who was abused, harassed, and threatened by her mother as well as others in her community because she’s transgender. “I tried to beg her and tell her it wasn’t my fault.”
To survive, Ariana was forced to become a sex worker, where she faced further abuse and extortion by one of the most violent gangs in South America. Tired of the abuse, she and her friends turned to local police for help, only to face death threats once the gang discovered they had been reported. Fearing for her life, she fled to Mexico, where she continued to face torment by others‚–and even from a member of the Salvadoran gang who had tracked her down.
Desperate to survive, she fled to the United States/Mexico Border and told immigration officials she was in danger and needed help. Upon her release from the Otay Immigration Detention Facility, she found refuge in San Francisco and was able to connect with a support group. In 2014, Ariana came to NCLR, where we represented her before the San Francisco Immigration Court. A year later, we helped her gain asylum.
Thanks to NCLR’s Immigration Project, Ariana has started a new life in this country, where she can finally be herself. Ariana continues to take English classes and currently works at a hair salon, where she hopes to bring positivity and beauty to individuals through her work. Finally, she says, she’s happy and no longer lives with the type of constant fear that dominated her youth.