The treatment of migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities has made headlines over the last few years: lack of adequate medical care leading to needless suffering and even deaths; ICE officials pressuring young women into carrying unwanted pregnancies; stories of sexual abuse and harassment by detention facility staff.
The suffering inside ICE detention facilities is heart-wrenching, wrong and unnecessary. ICE's own policies allow them to use their discretion to release migrants on humanitarian parole in cases where detaining a person is causing them harm and danger.
That's why, earlier this week, we sent a letter to the ICE Office in Phoenix about Alejandra – a young trans woman who fled danger posed by Mexican cartels. Fearing for her life, Alejandra sought asylum in Nogales, Arizona. She is currently detained at the La Palma Correctional Center in Arizona.
For migrants across the country, immigration detention can be an isolating and humiliating experience, where the possibility of deportation looms. For trans detainees like Alejandra, detention also means being vulnerable to the myriad abuses rife in the detention system including sexual abuse, overuse of solitary confinement, and being forcibly housed in units that do not reflect an individuals’ gender identity. The government’s blatant disregard for transgender immigrants in detention is appalling. Just this year, their own records indicated such a severe lack of medical attention for transgender immigrants detained at a facility in New Mexico, they had to transfer them.
The events that led Alejandra to seek asylum in the United States are horrific. In Mexico, she was regularly harassed and threatened on the street for being a trans woman, including by influential cartel members who tried to force her into sex work. One of these cartel members took a knife and cut through the base of her thumb, struggling until he eventually cut through her finger bone. During this time, isolated and without resources, Alejandra was homeless, sleeping underneath the awning of a chicken store.
When she sought asylum, she was detained in an all-male unit in the Eloy Detention Center. There, Alejandra faced sexual assault and harassment at the hands of other people in detention. Rather than abide by their own policies and accommodate Alejandra as a trans woman, guards held Alejandra, the victim of the harassment, in solitary confinement for over a month after the incident. When Alejandra was assaulted a second time, she was again placed in solitary confinement for nine days.
The sexual abuse of people in immigration detention, particularly for those who identify as LGBTQ, is systemic and not limited to one rogue facility or a handful of bad actors who staff immigration centers. ICE has demonstrated a consistent disregard and neglect for the care of all those in their custody. We urge ICE to release Alejandra to loved ones who can support her as she fights to overcome the trauma she has endured and fight her asylum case on the outside so that one day she may be able to live freely and openly, without fear.