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Lawyers: ICE Arrests Trans Migrant Woman Month After Release

Barbed wire fencing is shown behind a sign in English and Spanish in a recreation yard at a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
Associated Press
Barbed wire fencing is shown behind a sign in English and Spanish in a recreation yard at a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.

One month after winning her release from immigration detention, a transgender woman from El Salvador was arrested and taken back to the same jail because the U.S. government is appealing the judge’s decision, the woman’s lawyers said Friday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement re-arrested the trans woman Monday during what her lawyers expected would be a routine check-in. She suffers from seizures as well as symptoms of a traumatic brain injury and had been released from the hospital days before the check-in, said Wes Brockway, a lawyer with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. She since suffered another seizure Tuesday, Brockway said.

The Associated Press is identifying the trans woman only by her first name, Joselin, because her lawyers say she faces the threat of violence and persecution if she is deported to El Salvador due to her transgender identity.

The case emerges as a group of congressional Democrats called on ICE to release transgender migrants “at risk of sexual abuse and assault” and to bring jails used to hold transgender detainees into compliance with current standards.

“Transgender individuals face persecution that ranges from physical and sexual violence to other forms of mistratement based on their gender identity and expression,” the lawmakers said. “This already vulnerable population faces a heightened and unique set of injustices while in immigration detention.”

Brockway argued Joselin’s continued detention is unnecessary because she had a place to stay and was not a flight risk. ICE did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday.

Joselin is being held at the Cibola County Correctional Center in rural Milan, New Mexico, which has a special ICE unit for transgender detainees. ICE has said it made a significant investment when it opened the section for transgender inmates, known as Unit 900. Milan is 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Albuquerque. The agency also says it provides screenings and round-the-clock medical care.

Another transgender woman detained at Cibola County died in May 2018 at a hospital. A state autopsy found Roxsana Hernandez had a rare disorder that developed quickly due to AIDS. Hernandez’s family alleged that Hernandez had deep bruising on her ribs, contusions on her back, and injuries around her wrists likely caused by handcuffs.

A second transgender woman, Johana Medina Leon, died in June shortly after her release from another facility in New Mexico.

Brockway says Joselin was sexually and physically assaulted by a group of people in 2008 and was hospitalized for about two months in El Salvador. Since then, she has had intermittent seizures, bouts of asthma, and anxiety and depression.

Joselin originally crossed the border in 2012, apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol, and released, Brockway said. He said that when the family members serving as sponsors learned of her transgender identity, they did not want to keep her and eventually pressured her to return to El Salvador. She missed an immigration court hearing in the U.S. and had a removal order placed against her.

According to Brockway, Joselin left El Salvador again in January 2019, arriving in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in April. She waited several weeks in Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, to request asylum along with thousands of other people under a U.S. government policy known as “metering,” which has required many people trying to seek asylum legally to wait in often-dangerous Mexican border cities. She was eventually admitted in May and sent to Cibola County.

Due to her previous removal order, Joselin could not request asylum. Instead, an immigration judge approved her in December for withholding of removal, which requires a tougher standard than an asylum claim, Brockway said.

ICE has since said they would detain her pending an appeal of the immigration judge’s decision, Brockway said. He intends to ask ICE to grant her medical parole. In the meantime, he said he was concerned for her health and safety, particularly after she had a seizure Tuesday.

“She’s primarily relying on other individuals, other trans women, to keep a watchful eye on her,” he said. “She’s relying on them to call the attention of the guards when these seizures are happening. Those are not appropriate conditions for someone in her situation.”