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Photo: Familia TQLM Twitter
Pressure is mounting from activists to release transgender individuals from ICE detention. Photo: Familia TQLM Twitter

‘There is no pride in detention,’ as Familia TQLM ramps up pressure to end trans ICE detention

“Pride is not just about putting up the rainbow for 30 days, it is about speaking out against the unjust detention of transgender immigrants.”

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June is Pride month, a time where the LGBTQ community celebrates their identities, their history and their resilience. Pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are commemorated, and modern icons are lauded as well.

It is, simply put, a time for this marginalized group to be proud of who they are, what they’ve accomplished and what they hope to accomplish.

But for so many transgender immigrants under ICE custody, June is just another month of dehumanization and oppression.

There is no pride in detention. 

This is the tagline of Familia TQLM’s campaign #EndTransDetention. The campaign launched six years ago, and is still going strong.

In 2007, Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old trans immigrant from Mexico, was sent to a detention center in San Pedro after being arrested on a traffic charge. Arellano had AIDS at the time of her arrest, but showed no symptoms of the disease due to the medication she took daily.

However, once detained, her health quickly began to deteriorate. She begged staff members to get her to a doctor, so she could be prescribed life-saving antibiotics, but Arellano’s requests were routinely ignored. Her cellmates were left with the daunting task of tending to her medical needs.

As Arelleno’s weight continued to rapidly drop and her condition worsened, her fellow detainees became outraged and staged a strike. They refused to get in line for the nightly head count until she was taken to the detention center’s infirmary.

Arellano was sent to a nearby hospital, but it was too late. She died of an AIDS-related infection.

If given the proper and timely treatment, she could have survived. At this point, Famila TQLM knew something had to be done.

In May 2014, the organization staged their first “Liberation, Not Deportation” rally in Santa Ana, California, calling on the city to terminate its contract with ICE.

The rally took place downtown at the Santa Ana Stadium and local activists rallied on behalf of the 267,000 undocumented trans and queer immigrants that are too often detained in abusive conditions. 

A year later, the #EndTransDetention campaign officially launched as part of other organizing efforts like the anti deportation movement called #Not1More. 

In May, Familia TQLM organized the second action in Santa Ana, and in June, the group disrupted a Pride event at the White House. 

 

 

In 2016, after a successful hunger strike and on-the-ground work, their demands were met and the Santa Ana center was shut down. 

Then, a group of formerly detained trans women met with Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in June to keep up the momentum.

Despite the growing support for the campaign, trans people continued to be mistreated under ICE custody, resulting in several reported cases of abuse, as well as two more preventable deaths.

In 2018, Roxsana Hernández died in ICE custody, and the following year Johana Medina also died in a detention center, both losing their lives due to medical negligence. 

On May 31, 2020, Familia TQLM established the first Trans Immigrants’ Day to honor all trans migrant people. In the same year, after much advocacy, two detainees, Chin Tsui and Sza Sza Codner were released from ICE custody. 

In March 2021, the group launched a national petition demanding that President Biden and DHS Secretary Mayorkas end the detention of trans people, as well as any individuals diagnosed with HIV or other critical medical conditions. 

This involved local grassroots work as well as a letter sent to the White House signed by 37+ formerly detained trans people. 

The campaign has continued in full force for pride month 2021, as Familia TQLM organized events throughout the country, including Washington D.C, Philadelphia, New York City, Phoenix, and more. 

On Sunday, June 13, around 50 activists gathered in Queens, NYC to raise awareness of the issue that tends to go unnoticed. 

Joaris Hernández was one of the speakers at the rally. She shared her own experience of abuse being detained in a Nevada ICE facility for 10 months. 

Hernández, a 28-year-old trans woman from El Salvador seeking asylum, was locked up in a men’s facility where she claims she was abused. 

“I was the only trans woman and I was with 100 men. They violated my privacy and sexually assaulted me,” Hernández told Latino Rebels.

Francisco Cortés, development director of Familia TQLM told Latino Rebels that they know the President has all the power to stop the detentions, and they want him to follow through on his promise to protect trans people. 

This call for protection and liberation is for corporations as well, as they typically use pride month to profit off of this community. 

“Pride is not just about putting up the rainbow for 30 days, it is about speaking out against the unjust detention of transgender immigrants,” Cortés said.

Activists from across the country plan to march on June 23 in Washington D.C to keep promoting the message of trans liberation and put pressure on the White House to take immediate action. 

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