Amnesty International Escalates Pressure on ICE to Release Transgender Detainees

Pressure is mounting for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to free queer detainees, as Amnesty International has demanded the release of a transgender woman at the same facility where another trans woman died last month.


The international human rights group says that Alejandra, whose last name has been withheld because she is a target of a transnational criminal gang, is not receiving proper medical care.


When ICE announced that transgender woman Roxana Hernández died after being housed at Cibola County Correctional Center last month, it sent shockwaves through the transgender pod there where Alejandra is also housed.


“They were really rattled and shaken, justifiably, seeing another woman in their circumstances dying apparently due to inadequate detention conditions and care and her first two weeks following a request for asylum at the U.S. border,” said Brian Griffey, regional researcher and advisor for Amnesty International.


Cibola is home to ICE’s transgender ICE unit, where Hernández died after showing symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and HIV complications. LGBTQ organizations speculate that Hernández was held in a freezing hold cell referred to as a “hielera.”  


Gaffey reports that Amnesty has interviewed a dozen trans woman at Cibola. Six have reported that they are not receiving appropriate medical care. Some say their HIV medications have been delayed. Others have reported that their hormones have been administered at too high a dose and too close together. Some have reported that their requests for medical care have gone unanswered for several days.


Cibola can house up to 60 trans women. It does not house transgender men or non-binary people. Trans women are housed there by request.


Amnesty says it doesn’t want the nation’s only trans ICE unit shuttered completely, but it’s calling for improvements at the facility.


Alejandra is among those who have reported inadequate care, according to Amnesty.


Gaffey said Amnesty previously met with ICE officials about the delay in medical treatment at Cibola, but that the facility had failed to address them.


ICE did not respond to a request to comment by press time. A spokesperson for the agency said ICE would release a statement to INTO but not indicate when.


According to Amnesty, Alejandra’s case is particularly pressing and also emblematic of other trans women who are detained at Cibola.


Alejandra worked as a trans activist for a decade in El Salvador before fleeing extortion and attacks by a criminal gang and abuses by the military. She was sexually assaulted by both because she is trans, says Amnesty.  


“We’re profiling Alejandra’s case because it’s so clear,” said Griffey. “But we’re also calling on them to parole all asylum seekers who there’s no necessity to detain, but especially trans women and those living with HIV and other acute medical needs.”


Amnesty’s pressure campaign comes just days after advocates demanded the release of a gay Nigerian man who they say is suicidal. Udoka Nweke has been held for 15 months after fleeing anti-gay persecution and mob violence in Nigeria. Advocacy organizations say his continued detainment at Adelanto Detention Center puts his life on the line. He has already tried to commit suicide in custody, according to the LGBT Center OC.


ICE has denied that Nweke’s detention is harmful.


“In the ongoing evaluation of his health, medical professionals have determined that Mr. Nweke does suffer from mental illness, which is managed with medication and closely monitored by mental health professionals,” the agency said in a statement to INTO. “Furthermore, Mr. Nweke has not attempted to end his life while in ICE custody; claims to the contrary are false.”


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