Transgender woman seeking asylum in the US shares violent past

NOW: Transgender woman seeking asylum in the US shares violent past

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A transgender woman in Milwaukee seeks asylum in the U.S. after years of hiding from society. She says she has been violently attacked several times for being and looking "different."

"He would tell me that I was an embarrassment, to live with me was embarrassing because when I was little. I would wear my mother's makeup, well, the one who raised me," Rosita Garcia explained. "Inside of me, I feel a woman. I mean that's how I am."

Garcia told CBS 58 she has been on the run since the age of 11, escaping verbal abuse that began at home.

"I mean, I lived in sewers, on bridges, near garbage cans," she added.

Spending decades in search of a place she felt safe enough to call home. She said her entire life she's been forced to hide from the world, facing insults and abuse from strangers for dressing differently and sporting long hair, even unwarranted imprisonment from police in her home country of Guatemala.

Garcia said when she was 18 years old, her boyfriend at the time was murdered.

"It scared me because they left a note warning that I was next," Garcia said.

That was a wakeup call to leave Guatemala entirely.

"Before leaving Guatemala, well, I was shot at four times," she added.

Garcia said she will never forget one of the darkest moments of her life: walking home one Sunday night when several men appeared and attacked her -- she was shot four times.

"They told me that if they took those bullets out of me in that moment, I would likely end up in a wheelchair," she went on to say.

More than a decade after the ambush, the four bullets remain inside her body.

She said she eventually made her way to Mexico where violence followed. Working at a banana plantation in 2010, she was attacked again.

"They wanted to chop my head off," she said, pointing to her scars.

Garcia lost three fingers to a machete.

"I'm the mother of a transgender daughter, so this is something that I personally care for a lot," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director at Voces de la Frontera.

Neumann-Ortiz said Garcia is one of hundreds of asylum seekers that her nonprofit helps with in providing free legal services.

"We want to bring people out of the shadows and create, you know, advocacy for legal pathways," she added.

In 2019, Garcia was questioned for weeks near El Paso, Texas. Border patrols believed she was telling the truth, though her process was faster than most migrants.

"There was a lawsuit by a group of the acronym of ASAP for asylum seekers, and so it's free to join, and so we were able to get Rosita to join as part of this broader class action lawsuit," explained Neumann-Ortiz.

Garcia made it to Milwaukee on a temporary work visa, and now, Neumann-Ortiz says she's currently helping her become a permanent resident.

"A lot of people assume that the fact that they were interviewed and allowed to come in means that they're on the path, but they're really not," added Neumann-Ortiz. "We're going to be making the case that she should be included into that one-year asylum period, which she just missed for a few days, and the situation has gotten worse in Guatemala for LGBTQ people."

It's a long process that normally takes years, but Neumann-Ortiz is confident her client has a strong case.

"She really is an amazing survivor. What amazes me about her, she's got this, you know, big heart, and for someone that's seen the worst of humanity," she added.

Garcia's second court appearance is set to take place next week in Chicago.

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