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  • Writer's pictureDenisse Molina

Why We Must Restore Asylum: The Case of Melissa Nuñez

Trigger warning: This content discusses a person's death

Asylum is a critical form of protection for people who face persecution or harm in their home countries. Asylum allows individuals who are fleeing to remain in the United States, and people can only apply if they are physically present in the U.S. or seeking entrance at a port of entry. 

For years, asylum has been an important part of our immigration system, allowing at least some people to build new lives in our country as our friends, neighbors, and community members.

And although a grant of asylum gives people wonderful benefits, the U.S. process to obtain asylum is incredibly difficult. Furthermore, for the past two years, the U.S. has restricted access to asylum even further under policies like “Remain in Mexico” and “Title 42”, a pandemic-era policy that expels migrants from the United States and prohibits migrants from accessing our legal system and lawfully petitioning for asylum in the United States. Closing the door to our legal system and asylum has severe consequences for people who are fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries, people like Melissa Nuñez.

Melissa Nuñez was a Honduran Trans Activist who lived in the United State since she was a young teen. She was a member of MAKE THE ROAD – a progressive grassroots immigrant-led organization in New York where she participated in the Corporate Backers of Hate campaign, a campaign targeting JPMorgan Chase’s financing of private immigration prisons. She was also an avid fighter for Trans Justice.

Melissa Nuñez was just 33 years old when she was expelled to Mexico under Title 42. Having no ties to Mexico and with no protections afforded by the Mexican government, Melissa was forced to return to her home country of Honduras - which she had not seen in over two decades.

In October 2022, she was shot to death by an unidentified gunman on a motorcycle in Honduras. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Honduras has one of the world’s highest rates of homicides of transgender people. Melissa was reportedly the 34th LGBTQIA+ homicide in Honduras this year.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) beside Melissa Nuñez and others at the Make the Road New York TransLatinx March

Núñez's sister, Glenda de Jesús Núñez, spoke with Beaumont Enterprise and said, “I will remember her as a happy, charismatic, helpful person, always with her mother and family. She never had disagreements with us and always supported us throughout her entire life.”

TCRP shared Melissa’s story and celebrated her life at our Dia de Muertos gathering earlier this year, along with many others who have lost their lives attempting to seek safety at our borders.

Melissa’s story exemplifies the inhumane and dangerous consequences of denying people the opportunity to seek safety and shelter in our country under policies like Title 42. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by TCRP and our allies, the use of Title 42 to deny people even the chance of seeking asylum is slated to end, but we must now build a just asylum system, so that brave individuals like Melissa Nuñez, who make up our vibrant communities, can have an opportunity to live a life free from persecution.

If you would like to help these individuals, we encourage you to contribute to groups like the Sidewalk School, which has been providing services to people stuck in Mexico and awaiting an opportunity to apply for shelter and safety in the United States. They run an Etsy page where they sell art painted by asylum seekers. We encourage you to check it out and support their work!

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