Dozens of House Members Demand Better Treatment of Transgender Asylum Seekers in ICE Custody

More than 30 lawmakers from Congress sent a letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on August 1, expressing concerns over the way the agency treats transgender detainees.

The letter, which was spearheaded by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., demands that ICE take claims for asylum from transgender migrants more seriously. The letter was sent to acting ICE director Matthew Albence. “Transgender migrants face persecution and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. We ask that you honor the longstanding reputation of the United States as a safe refuge for individuals who face this deplorable treatment,” the lawmakers wrote. “Specifically, we ask that you bring ICE into compliance with its stated policy for the treatment of transgender detainees. We further ask that you take tangible steps to protect the legal rights of transgender individuals who meet the necessary criteria to be considered for asylum.”

The letter was also signed by Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and many others. In their message, the lawmakers state that transgender migrants from places like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala face extreme violence. The lawmakers note that in El Salvador, at least seven transgender women were killed in 2017, and in 2016, five transgender women in Guatemala were killed within two months. “Transgender communities — overwhelmingly poor and without access to social and economic development — have even less capacity to respond to threats of extortion and violence,” the letter read.

“With no legal framework to address forced displacement, public institutions are overwhelmed by the demand to support an ever-growing number of victims.”

The lawmakers also mentioned the story of Alejandra Barrera, who requested asylum at the US-Mexico border in November 2017 and remains in an ICE detention facility in New Mexico.

“Despite documented health conditions that require specialized care, she remains at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, and has been denied humanitarian parole five times,” the letter stated. In June, a transgender woman from El Salvador died four days after she was released from ICE custody. Johana Medina León, 25, died in El Paso, Texas at the Del Sol Medical Center, Buzzfeed News previously reported. On May 28, ICE reviewed the 25-year-old’s case and released her from detention, but later that day, she was taken to the hospital due to chest pains.

León had reportedly asked to be deported because immigrant officials “ignored her numerous requests for treatment as her health ‘rapidly deteriorated,’” The Guardian previously reported. León, who was a nurse in El Salvador, said she needed IV fluids, but ICE denied her request. She was also denied water, sugar, and salt to make her own IV, according to the publication. Her family filed a civil rights claim against the US government in June. “She came to the US because she thought it was a great country and that she would be safe there,” León’s sister said in an email to The Guardian. “She did everything right but was treated as a criminal…She shouldn’t have died. She went to the US seeking protection and now she is coming home to us dead.”

Transgender women in the US have also experienced extreme violence. Earlier this month, Denali Berries Stuckey was found dead in Charleston, South Carolina and is the 12th Black transgender woman in the US to be killed this year. Police said they found Stuckey, 29, laying near 2721 Carner Avenue on July 20, WCIV previously reported. The 29-year-old’s death is being investigated as a homicide.

“The North Charleston Police Department recognizes, respects, and protects the rights of all citizens regardless of race, religion, gender, or beliefs and will continue working to ensure all citizens are treated fairly and courteously,” North Charleston Police Deputy Chief Scott Deckard said in a statement. Stuckey was a manicurist and lived in Charleston, according to Out Magazine. The Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA), Charleston Pride, We Are Family, Charleston Black Pride, and SC Equality gathered for a vigil on July 22 in Stuckey’s memory. The executive director of AFFA, Chase Glenn, said in a statement that Stuckey is the third Black trans woman to be killed in the state since 2018. “I am heartbroken and outraged by the news of yet another murder of one of our transgender community members,” Glenn said in a previous statement.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.