LGBT Dreamer granted asylum by Chicago immigration judge

SHARE LGBT Dreamer granted asylum by Chicago immigration judge

Lulu Martinez, 28, and her supporters rallied outside U.S. Immigration
Court before a court hearing Wednesday on her request for amnesty
status. Martinez, an immigration organizer, grew up in Chicago after
being brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was three. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

A federal immigration judge granted asylum Wednesday to a Chicagoan who argued that her status as a queer woman and LGBT rights activist made it too dangerous for her to return to Mexico.

Lulu Martinez, 28, who was brought here by her parents at age 3, had faced possible deportation proceedings if not granted asylum.

But Judge Eva Saltzman said she was convinced sexual minorities face significant threats of violence in Mexico despite legal changes that included the sanctioning of same-sex marriage in Mexico City.

For individuals such as Martinez who are vocal about expressing their views, the dangers are even greater, Saltzman agreed.

The ruling was not final. The judge said she would issue a formal decision on May 1. A lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security, which opposed the grant of asylum, reserved the right to repeal.


Martinez, who admitted to being anxious before the proceeding, said she was “very excited” afterward as she hugged her supporters outside court.

“It’s another win for the movement and for all of us really,” said Martinez, who grew up in Portage Park and now lives in Little Village with her lesbian partner.

The asylum grant came one day after a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., issued the latest decision against President Donald Trump’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Martinez’s own application for DACA status was sidetracked after she was detained by border officials in 2013 when she took part in a protest of deportations being conducted by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Martinez traveled to visit family in Mexico City for two days, then joined eight other undocumented students who presented themselves to federal agents on the Arizona border. They became known as the Dream 9.

Martinez was taken into custody and held 15 days in a detention center before national media attention helped force her release. Her resulting application for amnesty has dragged through the immigration court system until now.

Back in 2013, Chicago Magazine named her as one of its “Chicagoans of the Year” for her activism.

Martinez graduated last year from University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in gender and women’s studies.

“It’s an incredible thing she’s done, an incredible act of bravery,” the director of that program, Jennifer Brier, told reporters before the hearing.

Despite that bravery, Martinez testified she was very fearful of how she would be treated if forced to return to Mexico, where she said her only family members were unaware of her sexual orientation and might not be supportive if they knew.

She said her political activism in Chicago on both LGBT and immigration issues would make it easy for anyone to discover her background on social media.

“I could be kidnapped. I could be used for ransom,” she said. Martinez said she was also fearful of sexual assault and rape.

Martinez said she believed she would face a threat from “cartels” and “narcos,” even from Mexican law enforcement.

Martinez said she has no memory of living in Mexico before coming to Chicago in 1993. She said she has lived here almost continuously except for short stays in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Under questioning by her lawyer, Aneesha Gandhi of the National Immigrant Justice Center, she told the judge she hopes some day to have a family with her partner, which she said would not be possible if she were in Mexico. She also said she is considering law school.

A Homeland Security lawyer argued Martinez’s concerns were overblown because Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 and has a vibrant gay community.

But the court also heard testimony from Sara McKinnon, a Wisconsin college professor who studies violence against women in Mexico. She said violence is prevalent in Mexico against members of the LGBT community — both men and women.

The judge sided with Martinez that changes in Mexican law toward LGBT individuals don’t necessarily reflect changes in the attitude of the general population.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the date that Martinez came to Chicago.

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