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Transgender immigrant activists march to White House

By Michael K. Lavers


More than 100 people marched to the White House on Wednesday to demand the Biden administration end the detention of transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.


Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado and other marchers left National City Christian Church in Thomas Circle after organizers held a “funeral” for three trans women — Roxsana Hernández, Victoria Arellano and Johana “Joa” Medina Leon — who died while in ICE custody or immediately after the agency released them.


Hernández, a trans woman with HIV from Honduras, died in a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018, while in ICE custody. Arellano, a trans woman with HIV from Mexico, passed away at a hospital in San Pedro, Calif., while in ICE custody.


ICE released Medina, a trans woman with HIV from El Salvador, from its custody on May 28, 2019, the same day it transferred her to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. Medina died three days later.


Hernández’s family has filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the five private companies that were responsible for her care.


Isa Noyola, deputy director of Mijente, one of the immigrant advocacy groups that organized the march, emceed the “funeral.” Noyola played a message that Hernández’s nephew in Honduras recorded.


“The state does not recognize our humanity,” said Noyola, who became emotional at several points during the service.


A press release that announced the events said 25 trans women who had previously been in ICE custody participated. They, along with other participants, blocked traffic at the intersection of 16th and H Streets, N.W., near Black Lives Matter Plaza for several minutes before they marched into Lafayette Square.


The march took place a week after Mijente and seven other immigrant advocacy groups in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson demanded the release of all trans people and people with HIV who are in immigrant detention facilities.


The White House on Tuesday announced asylum seekers who saw their cases closed under the previous administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy will be allowed to enter the U.S. in order to pursue them. Vice President Kamala Harris, who traveled to Guatemala earlier this month, has also acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle.


‘Our only crime is to seek opportunities, to seek refuge’


Li An “Estrella” Sánchez, a trans woman from Mexico’s Veracruz state who the U.S. has granted asylum, is among those who participated in the march.


She told the Washington Blade during an interview in Lafayette Square after the march that she spent 13 months in ICE custody at three Georgia detention centers — the Atlanta City Detention Center, the Irwin County Detention Center and the Stewart Detention Center — before her release in 2013. Sánchez, who founded Community Estrella, an Atlanta-based organization that advocates for ICE detainees who identify as LGBTQ, said she and other trans ICE detainees face inadequate access to health and solitary confinement, among other things.


“I know first hand what they felt,” said Sánchez, referring to the three trans women who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. “I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy to be in a jail.”


“Our only crime is to seek opportunities, to seek refuge, to seek protection, to seek security,” she added.


Sánchez also had a message for President Biden.


“Listen, because the people are continuing the fight,” said Sánchez. “You have promised to support the LGBT community and you are really forgetting the immigrant community.”



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