US Supreme Court delivers landmark ruling in favour of trans migrant

With its decision, the US Supreme Court will allow Estrella Santos-Zacaria, a trans woman from Guatemala, to fight against deportation.

The US Supreme Court, which recently ruled in favour of a trans migrant.
Image: Via Shutterstock - Steven Frame

On Thursday, May 11, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of a trans woman seeking asylum after she faced persecution in her home country of Guatemala and is now fighting deportation. Legal experts found the justices’ opinion contained more humanising language in respect to previous decisions regarding non-citizens and did not misgender or deadname the woman.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court after Estrella Santos-Zacaria, a trans migrant from Guatemala, sought to remain in the US after facing persecution on the basis of her gender identity and sexual orientation in her home country. An immigration judge had previously rejected her claim, deciding that she did not make a strong enough case that she would face persecution were she to be deported back to Guatemala.

In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson used “she/her” pronouns to refer to Ms Santos-Zacaria, as well as her chosen name. A concurring opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito did the same thing. Their decision will now give Santos-Zacaria the opportunity to argue the previous rejection of her claim and continue fighting against deportation.

Legal scholars and court experts noted that, in addition to using more inclusive language compared to the past, the Supreme Court’s ruling is particularly significant at a time when the US is in the midst of a wave of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. This year, legislatures across the country have introduced more bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community than any other year in US history.


“The Court reads the statutory word “alien” to mean a non-citizen (in a footnote),” former US attorney Joyce Alene commented on socials. “Non-citizen, not illegal alien or similar dehumanising term. 7 justices signed on to Jackson’s decision in full & the concurrences don’t mention it. This is huge progress on both fronts.”

The ruling also came on the same day as Title 42, the restrictions on migration introduced by former President Donald Trump during the COVID pandemic, ended. President Joe Biden announced a new policy on asylum seekers, which human rights activists have criticised for being even more restrictive than the previous one.

According to Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford, Biden’s policy “is a travesty that will cause LGBTQ refugees (and others) with strong, meritorious asylum claims to be sent back to countries where they will be persecuted or killed. By implementing this ban, instead of humane solutions that would effectively and compassionately manage the border, President Biden has broken his promise to protect LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees.”

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