Culture

Victoria Villalba, an Undocumented Transgender Activist Inspiring Change

She’s 19 years-old, an LGBT and immigration activist, undocumented, transgender and this year’s recipient of the Colin Higgins Foundation Youth Courage Award. She’s a fighter. She’s Victoria Villalba.

Victoria first came to the U.S. when she was three years old, but when her father was deported, the family returned to Mexico. Twelve years later, Victoria bravely came out to her parents.

“When I came out they rejected me. I no longer talk to my parents,” confessed Villalba, who after being outcasted by her family lived on her own for three years in Mexico. She struggled to find housing and employment.

READ: Trans Latina Women Share their Story with #MyVanityFairCover

She sought political asylum at the U.S. border. However, her request was denied, and she was held in a detention center. Her situation worsened after Victoria reported the injustices taking place in the detention center. As a result, she was placed in solitary confinement for three and a half months. It’s been a year since she was released.

“Getting out was the only thing that kept me going,” said Villalba. “I didn’t have someone outside waiting for me, and I didn’t know what would become of me if I ever got released. [Would I be] getting killed in my country of birth for my gender expression or in this U.S. detention center?”

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Photo Credit: United We Dream/Facebook

Shortly after being released, Victoria joined the United We Dream: Queer Undocumented Immigrant Rights Project (QUIP) chapter in Arizona, an opportunity that would help her explore a new mission in life. Victoria became an avid activist fighting for the liberation of transgender and queer people in U.S. detention centers.

“I know I’m not the first one, and I know I won’t be the last,” said Villalba. “That’s why I’m standing up [for the trans community], hopefully the system stops discriminating against [transgender people] and starts treating us as humans.”

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Photo Credit: Sam Hubbard/Facebook

Her efforts have included launching hunger strikes, organizing informational conferences for undocumented transgender people, and spearheading success efforts to have three transgender women released from detention. Earlier this month the Colin Higgins Foundation presented Victoria with the Youth Courage Award and awarded her $10,000. The prize also included an all expense paid trip to L.A. Pride festival, one of the nation’s largest LGBT celebrations, where she’ll also be recognized at an awards ceremony.

“I feel honored to be receiving this award,” said Victoria. “I share this award with the trans community. I want to use the money to return to school and pursue a higher education. I want to become an immigration paralegal.”

READ: UndocuQueer Activist Changing the Immigration Debate

Despite her successes, her one wish is to be back with her family.

“Even though they don’t accept me, I want to be with my sisters and brothers again. I hope it changes one day. I want them to be proud of me and happy of how far I’ve come along,” said Villalba.

Her message to other transgender people, “you don’t need long hair, makeup or surgical proceedings to be who you are. If I want to wear makeup and get dolled up, I will. If I don’t want to I won’t. I perfectly love myself either way.”

Tell us about other LGBT  or immigrant activists that you admire. Please leave comments below.

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A Federal Court Just Ended Temporary Protected Status For More Than 300,000 Immigrants, Here’s What You Need To Know

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A Federal Court Just Ended Temporary Protected Status For More Than 300,000 Immigrants, Here’s What You Need To Know

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A federal court just handed a huge ‘victory’ to the Trump administration, which has been eager to restart mass deportations. Despite a global health pandemic, the administration has been pressing forward with plans to deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

Until now, many of these migrants were safe from deportation thanks to Temporary Protected Status, which shields some immigrants from deportation under humanitarian claims. However, the recent court decision – in San Francisco’s 9th Circuit – gives Trump exactly what he wants right before the elections.

But how will it affect immigrant communities across the country? Here’s everything you need to know about this major decision.

The 9th Circuit Court just ended TPS for more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants.

A California appeals court on Monday gave the Trump Administration permission to end Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan, clearing the way for officials to force more than 300,000 immigrants out of the country.

The decision affects people from all walks of life, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, have U.S.-born children and have been considered essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

This week’s ruling from the circuit court comes after a district court (also in California) temporarily halted Trump’s plan to end TPS in late 2018 after a group of lawyers sued, arguing that Trump was motivated by racial discrimination.

“The president’s vile statements about TPS holders made perfectly clear that his administration acted out of racial animus,”Ahilan Arulanantham, a lawyer for the ACLU of Southern California, wrote in a statement. “The Constitution does not permit policy to be driven by racism. We will seek further review of the court’s decision.”

But today’s 2-1 decision reversed the district court’s temporary order and allowed the federal government to take away TPS protections while the court case continues.

ICE and DHS has promised to wait several months before taking away TPS status if the agency won in court. As a result, the ACLU told NPR that it expects the protections to start ending no sooner than March, meaning that Joe Biden could reverse the administration’s decision if he wins in November, though the organization plans to fight back in the meantime.

Temporary Protected Status was created to protect people in the U.S. from being sent back to dangerous places – and it’s saved lives.

Credit: Daniel Ortega / Getty Images

The TPS program was first introduced in 1990, and it has protected immigrants from more than 20 countries at various points since then. More than 300,000 people from 10 different nations currently use the program, some of whom have lived and worked in the United States for decades.

Trump has sharply criticized the program, sometimes along racial lines, and in one infamous and widely criticized incident two years ago, the president reportedly referred to the program’s beneficiaries as “people from shithole countries.”

TPS provides protection for short periods of up to 18 months, but the federal government has continuously extended it for the countries mentioned in the lawsuit “based on repeated findings that it remains unsafe to return.” 

As a result, it said, most TPS holders have been living in the U.S. for more than a decade, contributing to their communities and raising their families. Many of the more than 200,000 U.S.-citizen children of TPS holders have never been to the country their parents are from and would have to choose between their families and their homes.

The ruling will have a major impact on migrant families and communities across the U.S.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Immigration advocacy groups are slamming the court’s ruling, noting it will impact hundreds of thousands of TPS holders as well as their families and communities. In a statement, Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said the decision will “plunge their lives into further turmoil at a time when we all need greater certainty.” 

As the global pandemic stretches on, immigrants with protected status make up a large portion of the country’s front-line workers. More than 130,000 TPS recipients are essential workers, according to the Center for American Progress. 

“TPS recipients have deep economic and social roots in communities across the nation,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “And, as the U.S. responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, TPS recipients are standing shoulder to shoulder with Americans and doing essential work.”

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

On Friday, previously undisclosed court documents revealed that almost 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children seeking refuge were denied access to the U.S. and subsequently expelled from U.S. soil. None of these children were given a chance in court.

According to reporting done by CBS News, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have “suspended humanitarian protections” for most migrants crossing the border, on the grounds that “public health law overrides asylum, immigration and anti-trafficking safeguards” in the era of COVID-19.

CBS news made the shocking discovery when investigating the problematic and increased practice of holding and detaining minors in unregulated, privately contracted hotel rooms.

The government is arguing that the practice is keeping the American public safe from possibly COVID-19 exposure from unauthorized migrants.

“What we’re trying to do…is remove all individuals, regardless of whether they’re children — minors — or they’re adults,” Customs and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan said in an August media briefing.

He continued: “We’re trying to remove [the migrants] as fast as we can, to not put them in our congregate settings, to not put them into our system, to not have them remain in the United States for a long period of time, therefore increasing the exposure risk of everybody they come in contact with.”

via Getty Images

But critics are claiming that the Trump Administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to unlawfully expel as many migrants as possible–regardless of their age.

On Friday, federal Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the administration to put an end to the practice of detaining children in hotel rooms, saying that hotels do not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention”. She asked the government to put an end to the practice by September 15th.

It is in the court documents regarding the above case that 8,800 expelled migrant children number was revealed.

“The numbers are stunning,” said executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Lindsay Toczylowski, to CBS News. “…To find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”

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US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz has defended the unsafe hotel detainment and speedy expulsion of migrant children, saying that stopping the practice would increase risk of exposure to health and customs officials alike.

But even if the practice comes to an end, the staggering number of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children left to their own devices is sitting heavy on the soul of advocates and activists.

“It’s just completely contrary, not only to all child protection norms and standards, but also just completely contrary to our values as a nation around protecting the most vulnerable,” said vice president for international programs at Kids in Need of Defense Lisa Frydman to CNN. “Because we are just wholesale shipping them out without making sure that it’s safe for them to go.”

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