June 11, 2018 – The National Center for Transgender Equality joins Amnesty International in calling for the immediate release of a transgender asylum seeker currently held in ICE custody.
Alejandra (last name withheld for her protection) arrived in the United States in 2017 after fleeing persecution in her home country of El Salvador as an advocate for women’s rights. Alejandra sought asylum in the United States after facing extortion, threats, and being sexually assaulted by criminal gangs and members of the country’s military.
After applying for asylum status, Alejandra was placed in a federal correctional facility. This is the same prison where Roxsana Hernandez – a transgender woman from Honduras – was held after also seeking asylum from persecution in her home country this past spring. Last month, Roxsana died while in ICE custody after being denied medical care despite her HIV diagnosis.
Like other asylum seekers arriving in the United States, transgender people in ICE custody are consistently denied health care – even when gravely ill – and are frequently kept in cells at freezing temperatures.
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But transgender migrants like Alejandra face even more risks. ICE’s own data shows LGBTQ people in ICE detention are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized than non-LGBTQ detainees. Despite only making up 0.1 percent of ICE detainees, transgender people are victims in 12 percent of reported incidents of sexual assault. On average, transgender people detained by ICE spend twice as long in solitary confinement as their counterparts.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, demanded the immediate release of Alejandra:
“Brave transgender women like Alejandra are fleeing life-threatening persecution in their home countries, trusting the United States will treat them with dignity and civility. But where these asylum seekers hope to find shelter, ICE gives them cages and inadequate food. Where they plead for acceptance, they are denied medicine and treated like animals. Where they hope to find safety, they face more of the rape and violence they were trying to escape.
“ICE is not only cruelly separating families but needlessly imprisoning thousands of asylum seekers. When ICE takes women like Alejandra into their custody, they take responsibility for their safety even though they cannot provide safety. Under federal law, ICE must put the safety of these women above all other considerations.
By any measure, ICE has proven itself incapable of acting within the law or even within the most basic standards of human decency. With the recent death of Roxsana Hernandez and last week’s death of Marco Antonio Muñoz, it is absolutely clear that ICE cannot safely detain asylum seekers – especially vulnerable individuals like Alejandra.
“These human rights abuses cannot be permitted in our country and in our names. We join Amnesty International in calling for the immediate release of Alejandra, and we demand Secretary Nielsen begin an emergency review of the continued mistreatment of transgender detainees in her custody.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization based in Washington, DC. NCTE is devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.