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Tuesday August 09, 2022

On US border, Mexican trans social worker offers expert advice

Baltazar was a 14-year-old boy when she illegally entered the United States, where she labored on farms picking tomatoes, dreaming of studying medicine

By AFP
June 17, 2022
Brigitte Baltazar, here at work on the Mexico-US border, has often faced brutal discrimination and prejudice for being trans. Photo: AFP
Brigitte Baltazar, here at work on the Mexico-US border, has often faced brutal discrimination and prejudice for being trans. Photo: AFP

TIJUANA: Mexican trans social worker Brigitte Baltazar saw her dreams shattered when she was deported from the United States, where she had fought for 20 years for a better life.

Now she has found herself a new role -- helping other migrants to legally cross the border.

Baltazar was a 14-year-old boy when she illegally entered the United States, where she labored on farms picking tomatoes, dreaming of studying medicine.

She also transitioned from male to female, but she says that in April 2021 her life "turned to waste" when she was expelled to Mexico for not being able to regularize her residence status.

Now 35, with her long hair dyed red, Baltazar, from the impoverished southern state of Guerrero, has often faced brutal discrimination and prejudice, but says she has put her experience to good use.

"I´ve been through super tough situations, so I had always said that when I had the opportunity to help other people, I would love that life," she told AFP.

Like thousands of others who are expelled or seek asylum in the United States, she ended up in a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, just on the Mexico side of the border.

Seeing pregnant women or people overwhelmed by lack of resources and information, she started to assist in any way she could.

- Finding a role -

In a short time, the leading NGO "Al otro lado" -- which provides legal and humanitarian support to migrants -- asked her to join its staff.

She now works in a camp with people who seek to enter the United States on "humanitarian parole," a status that covers emergency medical treatment or visiting a sick family member.

"We try to handle the medical cases, the most complicated ones first," she said, explaining she draws on her empathy for others after years of suffering derogatory comments on the street, in job interviews and from officials.

She says she is moved by the plight of Haitian migrants, who are discriminated against because of the color of their skin and are often surprised that she is willing to help.

And she says she experiences a special connection with members of the LGBTI community who want to enter the United States fleeing intolerance in their countries.

She encourages them to "defend their identity tooth and nail" and to persevere, saying "we already have that warrior soul, you know, that soul that can handle anything."

The number of people trying to reach the United States through Mexico has soared in recent years, with the surge becoming a fierce political issue across Latin America as well as in Washington.

But in the camp, where faces of fatigue and uncertainty abound, Baltazar exudes warmth while she helps migrants fill out endless paperwork.

She even finds time to bump fists with little girls, bringing out a smile and lifting spirits.

"I have work that I love and I´m passionate about, and that´s why I´m happy. I´m living in a shelter and I´m happy, thank God I have the love of many people," she says.