Many Transgender Asylum-Seekers Held In Special ICE Unit
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A caravan of migrants arrived at the border in San Diego earlier this year that included a contingent of LGBTQ asylum-seekers. Many transgender women seeking asylum are held by ICE at a special unit - the only one like it in the country - in a detention center near a small town in New Mexico. Marisa Demarco from member station KUNM reports.
MARISA DEMARCO, BYLINE: Fourteen women dug through backpacks of clothes and snacks. They had just been released from detention and driven to an advocacy center in Albuquerque for a hot meal. Twenty-three-year-old Estefany Monge-Alveranga says transgender people have no rights or protection in her home country of Honduras.
ESTEFANY MONGE-ALVERANGA: (Speaking Spanish).
DEMARCO: She says she fled violence and assault, fearing for her life. And after a long journey, Monge-Alveranga presented herself to authorities at the border. She was held at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico about two and a half months and released on parole at the end of July. She had a message for her friends still being detained - move forward and fight.
MONGE-ALVERANGA: (Speaking Spanish).
DEMARCO: Adrien Lawyer is the co-director of the Transgender Resource Center in New Mexico, which was asked by ICE to provide services.
ADRIEN LAWYER: They are often forgotten about. And they feel forgotten about in facilities of confinement. So a connection to the community on the outside can be really important.
DEMARCO: He says transgender women do seem to be safer in a group, protecting each other from sexual assault and violence in detention. But this place they're held in New Mexico - the Cibola County Correctional Center - it's not just for transgender asylum-seekers who are held separately, but it also has facilities for ICE detainees and federal prisoners. And it serves as a county jail.
LAWYER: Folks who have been convicted and are being incarcerated for some type of a criminal reason are being housed in the same exact facility as these women.
DEMARCO: Plus, there are concerns about the medical care there. The facility is run by CoreCivic, a private company whose facilities have been accused of medical neglect in numerous locations.
MONGE-ALVERANGA: (Speaking Spanish).
DEMARCO: Monge-Alveranga says the staff didn't provide her with proper medical treatment. Advocates say this is a common complaint. An ICE spokesperson wouldn't comment on general concerns about medical care at the facility but shared the agency's national detention safety standards via email - standards, they say, ensure detainees reside in, quote, "safe and secure environments." CoreCivic offered a similar statement, saying they also have guidelines for safe and appropriate accommodations for transgender detainees.
ALLEGRA LOVE: When folks come to the United States to ask for political asylum, often they're not breaking any laws.
DEMARCO: Allegra Love is a lawyer representing some of the women.
LOVE: They were treated as if they had violated a law and were a danger to our country.
DEMARCO: Transgender women have strong cases, she says. And dozens of her clients have won asylum this year, despite new rules limiting who qualifies. Nakai Flotte of the nonprofit group Diversidad Sin Fronteras helped organize the caravan to the border.
NAKAI FLORES: It's a victory. It's a partial victory. I feel happy to see my friends out here and see that they're free and that they're doing well.
DEMARCO: But dozens more remain in detention in New Mexico awaiting decisions on parole and worry about being returned to violence and persecution in their home countries.
For NPR News, I'm Marisa Demarco.
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