Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a young Guatemalan trans women, is at this very moment caged at an all-male immigration detention center in Florence, AZ.
On average, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement incarcerates 75 transgender immigrants every night around the country.
The day I met Mimi, a formerly detained trans women, I could see so much of myself in her. Not only were we both 19 years old, but we were also undocumented, LGBTQ, and at one point afraid to go back to a country where our survival was not guaranteed.
Mimi, Nicoll, and other detained trans women face torture, sexual violence, and abuse at the hands of ICE inside immigration detention centers. We must take bold action to demand that President Barack Obama release Nicoll and the many other detained LGBTQ immigrants by formally declaring that LGBTQ immigrants are a group that is too vulnerable to detain, such as pregnant women.
Nicoll fled Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States. When she asked for protection at the border, she was instead locked up in a men’s detention facility where she has been constantly groped, verbally abused, and sexually assaulted.
Karolina Lopez, a formerly detained trans woman and Nicoll’s friend, said, “I know perfectly well the detention conditions Nicoll is experiencing and it can only be summarized in one word: inhumane.”
While transgender women make up only one out of every 500 detained immigrants, they are one out of every five survivors of confirmed cases of sexual abuse in immigration detention. We must put an end to this.
Recently, President Obama declared in his State of the Union address that Americans “condemn the persecution of ... people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” It is a cruel irony that President Obama’s staff at ICE subject people fleeing this exact persecution that he condemns to homophobic and transphobic violence and abuse, often amounting to torture.
ICE agents will often pressure detained people to give up and sign a deportation order using the threat of being forced to continue to be subjected to unbearable detention conditions, so detained LGBTQ people will often abandon very strong asylum cases just in order to escape the abuse.
President Obama’s mere mention of our communities in a speech is not enough. Progressive policies about detention conditions that exist solely on paper and are never followed, as Nicoll’s case shows, are not enough either. We will not be satisfied until President Obama acts now and releases Nicoll and all other detained LGBTQ immigrants.
The week of March 2-5, 2015, GetEQUAL, Transgender Law Center, FAMILIA: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Arcoiris Liberation Team, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Casa Ruby, United We Dream, and many other organizations will be taking action to demand the release of Nicoll and all LGBTQ immigrants in detention. There will be protests in Phoenix, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York City.
I made a commitment when I met Karolina and Mimi that I would not rest until all of our LGBTQ family was safe from detention. Please sign the petition to free Nicoll, call ICE, share Nicoll’s story on social media, and join us at a rally. http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/freenicoll/
Luis Aguilera Garcia is the immigration campaign manager for GetEQUAL. This opinion piece was written in support of the #freeNicoll action sponsored by GetEQUAL, Transgender Law Center, FAMILIA: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mariposas sin Fronteras, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Arcoiris Liberation Team, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Casa Ruby and United We Dream. To learn more or participate in one of the many actions around the country in support of Nicoll, visit here.