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A Statement from Tahirih’s Queer & Trans Caucus

The United States government maintains a multi-million dollar immigration detention system wherein the state incarcerates tens of thousands of immigrant individuals and families for indiscriminate amounts of time and perpetuates institutionalized violence. While in Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, immigrants—particularly trans, non-binary, two-spirit, and queer people of color—encounter multiple forms of harm, including mental, emotional, and physical abuse.

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, and Tahirih’s Queer & Trans Caucus would like to use this time and space to lift-up in solidarity the stories of those within the trans community who have been impacted by immigration detention and illuminate the gender-based violence executed within the walls of these detention facilities.

ICE subjects trans people in immigration detention to prolific, systemic abuse such as placement in solitary confinement as a form of torture, unsafe housing, medical neglect, sexual abuse and harassment, and anti-trans oppression. LGBTQ+ people are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated in detention than non-LGBTQ+ people in detention.

We are elevating the story of Roxsana Hernández, a 33-year-old trans woman from Honduras who sought asylum at the U.S. border on May 9, 2018. While incarcerated by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Roxsana suffered for five days in the dangerously cold holding cells known as “hieleras” or “iceboxes,” where she began to feel ill. ICE officers beat Roxsana and denied her access to adequate food or medical care. Roxsana’s condition quickly deteriorated due to abuse and neglect, and on May 25, she died of severe dehydration and complications related to HIV while imprisoned by ICE—only 16 days after she sought asylum at our border. In ICE’s press release about Roxsana’s death, they referred to Roxsana using her deadname, or the name she was given at birth, and highlighted her experience as a sex worker in order to excuse the abuse ICE inflicted upon her.

Roxsana unfortunately is not alone, as countless trans women have faced endemic violence, institutional neglect, and death while in immigration custody, including Johana Medina León, a 25-year-old trans asylum seeker from El Salvador who died in ICE custody in 2019, and Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old trans immigrant from Mexico who died in a detention center in 2007.

Tahirih’s Queer & Trans Caucus demands an immediate end to the state-sponsored violence that trans, nonbinary, two-spirit, and queer immigrants face at the hands of our immigration and criminal punishment systems. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should not have jurisdiction over immigration services. By its very name and existence, DHS scapegoats immigrants and wrongfully implies and furthers the long-standing, racist narrative that immigration is a security threat. By extension, ICE is an agency that has long harmed, criminalized, and killed trans and queer immigrants. We call for the dismantling of our immigration enforcement system, including an immediate stop to immigrant detention and divestment from the government systems that enact violence against immigrants and their communities. We uplift the boundless potential of our collective wellbeing when we invest in caring for, rather than punishing, trans and queer immigrant survivors.  

We also recognize that for survivors of violence perpetrated by ICE, the journey towards healing can be one rife with roadblocks and further oppression. Thus, we demand the Biden Administration ensures that the queer and trans immigrant communities have the resources to live safely after release from detention, including ending the use of electronic ankle shackles and providing safe housing, healthcare, education, and employment so that all LGBTQ+ immigrants can survive and thrive.

Please join us in signing End Trans Detention Campaign’s petition No Pride In Detention, #EndTransDetention Now!, led by Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP), Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente, and the Transgender Law Center, among other organizations. With our collective power, we can deconstruct the systems that harm our community and build systems that center, not criminalize, LGBTQ+ immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. 

In solidarity,
Tahirih’s Queer & Trans Caucus

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