The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a transgender Guatemalan woman who is fighting deportation on the grounds that she would face persecution if returned to her native country.
The court’s unanimous decision in favor of Estrella Santos-Zacaria gives her another chance to argue that immigration officials were wrong to reject her bid to remain in the United States.
Lawyers for Santos-Zacaria, now in her mid-30s, said she first fled to the United States after being raped as a young teenager and threatened with death because of her gender identity in a country that has targeted the LGBTQ community.
But a U.S. immigration judge found that she did not make a strong enough case that she would face persecution if sent back to Guatemala.
The issue at the Supreme Court was more technical: whether federal immigration law was flexible enough to allow her another day in court. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against her on that point, but other appellate courts had ruled in favor of immigrants on the same issue.
The Supreme Court ruled in an opinion by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson that the 5th Circuit was wrong.
After leaving Guatemala as a teenager, Santos-Zacaria had once before made it to the United States, but her stay was brief and she was deported in 2008, Jackson wrote.
Ten years later, she again entered the U.S. and was quickly taken into custody by immigration authorities.
Santos-Zacaria had testified that she was raped by a neighbor in the small town in which she was born and that townspeople said they would kill her because of her gender identity and her attraction to men.
She spent most of her time between 2008 and 2018 in Mexico but decided to try to return to the U.S. after a Mexican gang also raped and assaulted her.
The State Department has found that Guatemala has done little to protect LGBTQ+ people and that transgender women are subject to frequent threats of violence.