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Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic at Columbia Law School Secures Asylum for Transgender Mexican Woman

Grant of Asylum Highlights Dangers Transgender People Face for Expressing True Gender Identity

Media Contact:  Nancy Goldfarb, 212-854-1584,  nancy.goldfarb@law.columbia.edu
Public Affairs Office: 212-854-2650,
publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu 

NEW YORK, June 25, 2009 –  The Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic at Columbia Law School has secured asylum for a woman who fled her native Mexico after suffering severe police abuse and gang violence because she is transgender.

The grant of asylum issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Ana Frutos (born Jose Antonio Frutos Rosas), a 25-year-old from Guadalajara, highlights the dangers many transgender people face simply for expressing their true gender identity, said Sadie Holzman ’09, one of the students who worked on the case. 

“We are thrilled with the decision,” Holzman said.  Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, who directs the Clinic, added that “this case is part of a very small but growing number of cases in which the U.S. government has recognized that transgender individuals who have fled persecution are entitled to protection under American asylum law.” 

 Frutos has long believed she was born with the wrong anatomical sex, said Crystal Sciallia, another student who worked on the case.  Growing up, Frutos endured ostracism and abuse, including sexual abuse, in the community and at school because of her apparent “effeminacy.” Once she began dressing and living outwardly as a woman, she was constantly harassed, physically abused, and subjected to demands by the police for money and sexual favors. 

Fearing for her life, Frutos fled Mexico and crossed into the U.S. about a year ago. To prove she deserved asylum, Frutos had to demonstrate to an asylum officer that she suffered persecution because of her membership in a “particular social group,” Holzman said. 

“This meant she had to show that her gender identity is so fundamental to who she is as a person that she cannot and should not be required to change merely to avoid persecution,” Scialla said.

Testifying before the asylum officer, Frutos explained, “Even though I knew I would be an easy target for police and gang abuse, I made my transition to womanhood because my identity as a woman is what defines me.  For me, hiding my true gender identity is impossible.” 

Julie Glasser ‘09, another student who worked on the case, noted that cases like this highlight the serious persecution and discrimination transgender people face, both here and abroad. “Even after escaping devastating persecution abroad, transgender individuals face a situation here in the U.S. where much work remains to be done to address employment discrimination, identity documents, relationship recognition, and countless other barriers to equality for transgender men and women,” she said.   

Frutos was referred to the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT individuals, which provided critical assistance in the case. 

In 2008, five students from the Clinic–Holzman, Glasser, Scialla, Keren Zwick ’09, and Jennifer Stark ’09–provided legal assistance in preparing Frutos’ asylum application.  The students conducted interviews, drafted affidavits, researched country conditions, completed application forms, and accompanied Frutos for her interview with an asylum officer. 

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic was founded in 2006. Under the direction of Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases.

For more information, visit the Clinic website at http://www.law.columbia.edu/focusareas/clinics/sexuality.

Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.

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