© Amnesty International / Encarni Pindado

What you can do to help transgender asylum seekers detained by ICE

By Larry Ladutke, AIUSA Legislative Coordinator for New Jersey

While news from the White House on asylum seekers keeps getting worse and worse, activists, members of Congress, and are fighting back to protect transgender individuals and others fleeing extreme violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America and elsewhere. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone and 34 other House members recently sent a letter to ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence demanding fair and humane treatment of transgender asylum seekers in US immigration detention facilities.

The letter highlights the case of Alejandra Barrera, a Salvadoran transgender activist who has been held in detention in New Mexico since November 2017. ICE has claimed that she is a flight risk, despite the fact that she has family in the United States and has urgent medical needs.

Indeed, the rhetoric of the Trump Administration has falsely portrayed asylum seekers as flight risks, despite research by the U.S. government demonstrating that people participating in alternative-to-detention programs appeared at their asylum hearings in 99.6% of all cases.

While El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have extremely high levels of violence in general, transgender men and women are at even greater risk. As Patricia, a Salvadoran trans woman, testified to Amnesty International, “It is impossible to live in my country.”

Many transgender people like Patricia are unable to survive because of extreme discrimination faced in their countries of origin. Patricia therefore made a living as a street vendor selling sodas. Gangs targeted her for extortion, knowing that she would not find protection from the authorities. In fact, the police themselves had threatened and harassed Patricia because of her gender identity. Activists such as Alejandra face additional danger because of their visibility fighting for the rights of all transgender people. Despite this danger, Alejandra has remained committed to fighting for the rights of trans folks in and out of detention. She said, “As an older trans woman, and as a fighter for LGBT rights, I am a fighter all the way until the last day that I am on this Earth.”

Why do members of Congress take action to defend asylum seekers from the Trump Administration’s assault on their rights? Often, it is because they hear from activists from Amnesty International and other organizations. As Amnesty International’s Legislative Coordinator for New Jersey, I contacted the office of all New Jersey Representatives who belong to the LGBT Equality Caucus to ask them to write a letter on behalf of Alejandra. Congressman Pallone decided to take this a step further by writing a letter to ICE on behalf of all transgender asylum seekers and recruiting other House members to sign the letter.

You can help defend asylum seekers by calling on your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act (H.R.2415/S.1243), which would ensure that transgender individuals like Alejandra do not languish in detention. Be sure to thank them if they signed the letter on transgender asylum seekers!

You can also send a message to ICE today telling them to #FreeAlejandra — it is unconscionable that she’s been detained for over a year and a half, and she deserves freedom now.

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