After going through horrible abuses in their home countries, thousands of transgender people enter the United States every year in hopes of finding safety, acceptance and a better life. Taking great risks to enter, undocumented trans people have the further challenge of having only one year to declare their intent to seek political asylum and slowly move on from the pain of their past.
Crossing Over, a documentary film directed by Isabel Castro and produced by Katrina Sorrentino, is one of the first films to ever explore the stories of undocumented transgender women seeking political asylum in the United States.
The film tells the stories of three women from Mexico living in Los Angeles: Brenda, 44, a matriarch in the trans community who is HIV-positive; Francis, 42, who's been in the United States for 15 years and is trying to lead a normal life; and Abigail, 28, who's putting herself through community college and struggling to move on from the demons and persecution of her past.
"They get here, they don't speak the language -- it's hard enough being an undocumented immigrant getting a job -- and they look transgender, so no one hires them, and they fall into a horrible cycle," said Sorrentino. "The government offers protection, but it's still a long, arduous process."
Many who seek political asylum ultimately get "withholding of removal," which allows individuals to remain and work within the United States but does not allow them to apply for a Lawful Permanent Residence or ever return to their home country.
For Castro, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, it was incredibly important to make these stories heard. She explained:
The transgender community is very stereotyped, because they are so marginalized in the media and in entertainment. No one's talking about how the trans community are forced into stereotypes created for them. No one's talking about LGBT asylum seekers. Too often are trans people pushed aside for fighting for their rights.
The filmmakers spent months following the women, entering the community and being accepted into their world. Despite the challenges, these strong women are slowly moving forward with their lives and actively work with LGBT asylum support groups to make the process for undocumented trans immigrants better.
I wanted to be a part of this documentary because I wanted to leave my grain of sand along with the rest of the women and make my story be heard. I wanted to talk about my life, talk about what it is like to live with HIV and give other trans women hope, and show them that you can live a dignified life.
Currently in post-production on Crossing Over, Castro and Sorrentino are still fundraising to finish editing the film and hope to premiere it next fall.
Learn more about Crossing Over at crossingoverdocumentary.com.
Special thanks to Margarita Mandulay for her courageous work to protect the undocumented LGBT community seeking political asylum.