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— Given that decision six years ago, and the testimony of Clark and others regarding persecution, the asylum case for the Tijuana transgenders looks like a shoo-in. But that hasn't proven to be so. In late February, Green and García had an official interview with a Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. "The asylum officer," Green explains, "has the authority to grant asylum unilaterally at that point, without a judge or a hearing."

That didn't happen, and they still await a decision. A possible holdup is the fact that many of the transgenders worked as prostitutes in Tijuana. And as part of the application review, Green says, immigration officials "try to determine whether or not the applicant has committed a 'crime of moral turpitude.' It is not entirely clear what that encompasses, but certainly any type of violent crime is a crime of moral turpitude. Being a prostitute could qualify, but it is not on any particular list. And I'm ready to argue, if they reject our application, that transgender people in Tijuana have no option but prostitution. Not only are they persecuted by the authorities but by private businesses. They get pushed out of legitimate employment fields, and then the only way they can basically get enough money to pay their bills is to work in an exotic dance club or a brothel. My client, who was born and raised in Tijuana, wanted desperately to work there. But she got fired from the salon where she was a hairdresser when she started to transform into a woman, at age 19, and no one else would hire her. So she was forced to work in these exotic dance clubs. And in the exotic dance clubs, a lot of prostitution occurs."

Whether or not the asylum is granted to the Tijuana transgenders, Clark says they represent a milestone "from the human rights perspective. I have been an expert witness in many cases involving political asylum in the courts of California and Texas. But I have never heard of such a number of Mexicans crossing in a short period of time to ask for asylum. This is very unusual."

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