Transgender activist wins deferral of removal
Kim Watson is a 52-year-old trans woman living in the Bronx with her husband and adopted daughter. She is cofounder of an organization called Community Kinship Life (CKLife), which provides space for transgender individuals to gather and offers scholarships. Her work has been honored by Bronx elected officials and citywide LGBT groups.
She arrived in the United States on a tourist visa in 1988. When the pass expired, she remained.
The city offered her refuge from persecution she faced over her identity in her homeland, but she continued to struggle with mental illness and substance abuse.
While homeless, she was twice arrested for selling controlled substances in 1997 and 1998. Nazrali said that at the time she was going through a wrenching identity dysphoria that led to the run-ins with the law.
However, more than a decade ago, Watson said she went to rehab and started receiving counseling for PTSD and her other identity issues.
Watson earned a bachelor's degree from Pace University and began grassroots organizing over LGBT issues and HIV status.
In 2012 Watson pleaded guilty to federal charges of trying to obtain a U.S. passport and obtaining disability benefits and Medicaid payments while not being eligible. She served six months in jail and was threatened with deportation.
Watson says that at the time she was struggling with her gender dysphoria, but that her husband has helped her get her life together.
She’s an asset to the United States. She’s tending to a very overlooked minority.
--Rehan Nazrali, Watson's attorney
Watson is a native of Barbados.
While tourists view the Caribbean island nation as a breathtaking paradise, Watson saw her homeland, with its anti-gay laws, as perdition for members of the LGBT community and people suffering from HIV.
Watson and Nazrali argued that if she were deported, she would have faced torture...or worse.
I feel like if America had sent me back, they were signing off on a death sentence.
Just before the trial started in the Manhattan court, the Homeland Security lawyer said he would not challenge Nazrali’s request for a deferral of removal, a rarely granted protective status that allows an undocumented immigrant to remain and work in the United States.
"Withholding of removal" would have been the better decision. Under "defferal" Watson cannot leave the country and can remove the status if it is determined in the future that Barbados is no longer a threat to her life.
Watson and Nazrali are hoping for a pardon from either Gov. Cuomo or President Obama. A pardon would allow her to apply for a green card and eventual citizenship.
I think she can be a worthy citizen. It will allow her more creative freedom and mobility in what she does,
Regardless of her legal status, Watson says she will continue her work.
My mission is to continue to help trans-men and trans-women and anyone that is dealing with poverty.
Dr. David Murray, a professor at York University in Canada, prepared a report for Watson’s case detailing the persecution that LGBT individuals and people who are HIV positive currently face there.
Murray, a socio-cultural anthropologist who specializes in research on homosexuality and sexual and gender identity in the Caribbean, said that Barbados’ “anti-buggery” laws strengthen social stigma against homosexuals and make LGBT individuals less likely to seek help from police if they are the victims of a crime.
Transgender female individuals like Ms. Watson may be identified homosexual by the public including the police, who may then treat them as criminal or deviants based on the pervasive homophobic social attitudes.