When she was just 17 years old, in the years before she transitioned, Ingrid was severely beaten by the members of a gang she had refused to join. Ingrid had been living as an openly gay man in El Salvador, and had already been threatened by the gang. She had stopped going to school or leaving her mother’s house. One day, when she went out for groceries, the gang members found her. Five men hurled homophobic slurs at her while they punched her in the face and kicked her all over her body.
“One of them kicked me in the teeth and knocked out my front teeth,” she said. “I was so afraid.”
Several days later, members of the same gang slid a note under her front door telling her they planned to kill her. She knew she had no choice—if she wanted to live, she would have to escape.
In 2015, Ingrid entered the US as an unaccompanied minor. She was released to her father, who lived in Los Angeles, and found her way to NLSLA. Our lawyers filed an asylum case on Ingrid’s behalf. When she began to transition to female, her father kicked her out of the home. NLSLA connected Ingrid with an LGBTQ resource center that could provide her with housing and myriad social and emotional support services to help her process the trauma of her past and manage the complexities of transitioning on her own in a new country.
In 2017 Ingrid was granted asylum. But because she had attempted to enter the US illegally, she was placed in removal proceedings in immigration court. NLSLA attorneys quickly filed a motion to dismiss the case and prevent her deportation. In 2018, NLSLA helped Ingrid adjust her immigration status and she became a legal permanent resident.
But our advocates didn’t stop there. Five years after Ingrid became a resident, our immigration lawyers helped her apply for citizenship, as allowed by law, while advocates at our Self-Help Legal Access Center (SHLAC) assisted her in legally changing her name and gender so that her new documents—including her passport—would reflect her true identity.
A few weeks ago, NLSLA Staff Attorney Julie Rivera-Coo accompanied Ingrid to her naturalization interview. It was the final step on the long road to safety and stability, and it was an emotional day for everyone.
“Ingrid was in such a vulnerable place when she first came to NLSLA,” Julie said. “The fact that she is now a US Citizen, and that she is forging a path for herself with so much courage and grace—it’s truly a testament to her spirit.”