Chanting “Shut it Down!” and “Abolish ICE!” LGBTQ protesters halted traffic this morning at an intersection outside an Albuquerque courthouse. They were demanding an end to ICE detention, which they say killed a transgender Honduran woman in May.
Car horns blared against the wall of about 100 protesters, who unfurled a banner in memory of Roxsana Hernandez. Hernandez died in ICE custody at Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico after experiencing pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV. “Justice for Roxsana” the banner read in bright pink letters.
Activists flanked both sides of the banner, sitting on ladders with fists raised into the air while police stood by watching for several minutes. The organizers, which included the Transgender Law Center (TLC) and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, called for the release of all trans detainees from Cibola and an end to immigration deportations.
Hernandez’s death has sparked public outcry and heightened calls for the release of all LGBTQ detainees. In June, advocates demanded the release of gay Nigerian Udoka Nweke, an asylum-seeker who experiences serious mental illness.
“There is no reason to keep him locked up,” said Kris Hayashi, TLC executive director. “He’s simply seeking safety.”
Nweke has attempted suicide twice and lost 20 pounds in detention at Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, he told INTO. He fears he will be murdered by a homophobic mob if he is deported back to Nigeria, while advocates worry he will end his life in detention. He faces an appeal hearing on his deportation case Aug. 31.
Activists have also pressed for the release of Alejandra, a transgender asylum-seeker from El Salvador whose full name has been withheld because she is the target of a transnational criminal gang.
Alejandra spent a decade as a trans activist before fleeing attacks from a criminal gang and the El Salvador military, which had both sexually assaulted her, according to Amnesty International. Her parole was denied three times because she is perceived to be a flight risk. Alejandra’s health is reportedly deteriorating in custody.
It is not known how many LGBTQ people are currently detained by ICE. As of Aug. 1, there were 29 transgender women at Cibola, home to ICE’s only transgender unit, according to Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. In January, ICE reported it had detained just over 70 transgender people at its facilities nationwide.
A campaign to free trans detainees has been at least partially successful. In July, ICE released 14 transgender women from Cibola after a federal court injunction ordered ICE to stop its blanket denials of asylum claims at a handful of field offices.
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