For many people fleeing death the U.S. has been a sanctuary but all that has changed with the Trump administration, she was lucky to get here before Trump took office and doubly lucky to find a judge to grant her asylum.
How a transgender Chechen escaped Russia and found asylum in the United StatesIn a way it turned out to be lucky that her passport picture was circulated,
By Adam Taylor
September 1, 2017
CHICAGO — When Leyla arrived in the United States after being smuggled over the Mexican border, she showed her passport to the Border Patrol officers who found her.
Then she said one of the few words she knew in English: “Asylum.”
The border guards may not have known it at the time, but the passport wasn’t just a travel document; it was stark evidence that Leyla needed refuge. It showed that she was born in the Russian republic of Chechnya — and that she was born and raised as a man.
The problems faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Chechnya, a tiny majority-Muslim part of southwest Russia, became a global story this year after reports that gay men were being detained and tortured in what appeared to be a state-sponsored purge.
Leyla herself has been harassed and attacked — even stabbed and left for dead in Moscow in 2015. For those who face violence, the safest option is usually to escape Russia.
A few days later, while taking groceries from her car, she was stabbed in the back and suffered a collapsed lung. “We are so tired of you and your shame,” the attacker said as she lost consciousness.
When she woke up in the hospital, Leyla said a police officer told her that filing a complaint would be a bad idea — it would mean traveling back to Chechnya to go to court.
“Can you imagine?” Leyla said. “The judge would kill me himself!”
Leyla hoped the violence would stop. But a few months later she got news that photographs of her passport were being shared on social media and in messaging apps. Leyla said her phone number was posted in a comment on Kadyrov’s popular Instagram page, and she received death threats.
Leyla’s story has a happy ending. On Thursday, a federal judge in Chicago quickly ruled that she should be given asylum because of the risk of persecution at home. Leyla, wearing a white headscarf and a pink-and-green dress, cried with joy and relief as the verdict was read.She is one of the lucky ones, some get judges who don’t believe in asylum, so never make it that far and are sent back to very country where they are facing persecution or even death. While some never make it out of their country alive.