During Pride Month, Let’s Remember The Trans Latinas Who Have Recently Died While In ICE Custody
Trans people are likely the most vulnerable and persecuted population in America. Add race and status discrimination to the mix and trans mortality dramatically shortens. Eight black trans women have been murdered in the U.S. so far this year. And yet, the United States might be the safest, geographically accessible country in the Americas for trans people.
In the last few years, there has been an influx of trans people seeking asylum from the violence they experience in Central America and Mexico. When they arrive, they’re placed in ICE detention centers where their abuse and mistreatment has resulted in two reported deaths in just over a year.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed 28 transgender women held in ICE and released its report.
In 2016, the HRW reported “serious and disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, of mistreatment, of the dangers of being placed with the male population, and [lack of access] to medical treatment.”
Women were being forced to endure strip searches from male guards. The solution to the abuse they faced in male populations was to place them in solitary confinement, rather than a female population.
Johana Medina Leon asked for medical attention for weeks before she died on June 1st.
She pled for medical attention for weeks. On May 28th, ICE finally complied and she found she tested positive for HIV. ICE released her on parole, to be sent to an El Paso hospital with chest pains and died days later. Officials haven’t released a cause of death yet.
Medina Leon had passed the first round of the interview process to gain asylum from El Salvador.
She was held in detention over a month before her first interview and was going into her second month at the Otero processing center–a privately owned facility notorious for its abuses against the LGBTQ+ community.
Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez traveled from Honduras to seek asylum in the U.S. She died in ICE custody.
Hernandez Rodriguez died on May 9, 2018. The official autopsy reports that she died of severe dehydration–a shockingly preventable death. Independent autopsies commissioned by civil rights activists discovered the proof of abuse Hernandez Rodriguez faced during her 16 days in ICE custody.
Hernandez Rodriguez had anonymously shared her stories of rape as a trans woman in Honduras.
She was part of the migrant caravan that the media decided to cover last year. The independent autopsies revealed that she had been beaten while in custody. ICE denies the allegations.
Medina Leon, 23, and Hernandez Rodriguez, 33, exemplify ICE’s inability to provide appropriate medical care to trans asylum seekers.
There is currently no policy that forces ICE to place transgender immigrants in the gender population of their expression. HRW reports that the most significant danger to a trans woman in ICE custody is being misgendered and placed in the male population. One trans woman interviewed revealed she was raped by three men in a detention center in Arizona.
More than 26,000 people have petitioned to release Alejandra Barrera, the longest detained trans woman.
Barrera has been in an ICE facility since November 2017 when she first reached the border seeking asylum from El Salvador. In the last 19 months, she has had no opportunity to build a new life and is at increased risk of sexual violence while in ICE.
The Trans Latina Coalition is working to make sure Barrera is released.
Barrera experienced sexual assault by a gang and the Salvadoran military before leaving her work of trans right advocacy in El Salvador for a semblance of safety. Yet, her request for parole has been denied and she remains behind bars, without adequate access to medical care.
While LGBT people make up .1 percent of ICE detainees, they account for 12 percent of the victims of sexual assault.
ICE reported to Congress that 40 trans people were placed in solitary confinement in 2017. Twenty-five of whom requested the confinement, which is internationally recognized as torture because being in gen pop was unsafe.
Trans people seeking refuge are only finding abuse and death in U.S. detention centers. ICE refuses to accept any responsibility for these preventable deaths, perhaps because they think nobody is watching.