August 29, 2018 at 8:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Arizona group advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTI immigrants

Trans Queer Pueblo Liberation Coordinator Karyna Jaramillo speaks with the Washington Blade in Phoenix on July 19, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PHOENIX — An Arizona organization that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTI immigrants says more of their clients are living in fear because of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Trans Queer Pueblo, which operates out of a small house in Phoenix’s Garfield neighborhood, runs a monthly clinic that offers health care to undocumented LGBTI migrants. Trans Queer Pueblo Project Coordinator Dagoberto Bailón told the Washington Blade during a July 19 interview that his organization also works to provide undocumented LGBTI immigrants “fair and dignified work” and access to immigration-related services.

Trans Queer Pueblo works with other immigrant advocacy groups that visit the Eloy and Florence Detention Centers — two facilities outside of Phoenix that house detained undocumented immigrants — and meet with detainees. Trans Queer Pueblo also remains a vocal critic of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over the treatment of LGBTI immigrants who are in their custody.

Karyna Jaramillo, an undocumented transgender woman from Mexico who is Trans Queer Pueblo’s Liberation Coordinator, is among those who paid tribute to Roxana Hernández, a trans Honduran with HIV who died on May 25 while in ICE custody in New Mexico, during a vigil that took place outside ICE’s offices in downtown Phoenix.

Jaramillo said fled to the U.S. in the late 1980s after police officers in Mexico’s Morelos state raped her.

She was detained in the Eloy Detention Center for two weeks in 2015 after she was arrested for DUI. Jaramillo said guards used male pronouns to refer to her and the men with whom she was detained threated her as though she was a “sex object” and a “sick person.”

Bailón, who entered the U.S. from Mexico when he was eight, said immigrant detention centers “are not equipped to care for LGBTI people.” He spoke with the Blade as Jaramillo and two of their colleagues, Crystal Zaragoza and Dora Mejia, listened.

Zaragoza, the daughter of Mexican migrants who coordinates Trans Queer Pueblo’s Justice in Health Care Program, told the Blade many of the organization’s clients were afraid to seek access to health care and other services after Trump took office. Zaragoza said Trans Queer Pueblo’s health care clinic currently has a three-month waiting list.

“There are many patients who have not seen a doctor in 10 years, 14 years,” she noted. “They are still a little bit afraid.”

The Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Ariz., on July 22, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Trans Queer Pueblo works against the backdrop of Arizona laws that critics contend specifically target immigrants. These include Senate Bill 1070, a law then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed in 2010 that allowed police officers to check the immigration status of anyone who they suspected were in the U.S. illegally.

English is the official language in Arizona, even though statistics indicate more than a quarter of the state’s residents speak another language at home. Undocumented immigrants are unable to receive Medicare and other public assistance in Arizona.

The Arizona State Capitol on July 19, 2018. State lawmakers over the last decade have passed Senate Bill 1070 and other laws that have faced sharp criticism from immigrants rights advocates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Arizona’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity. The late-U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was among those who opposed a controversial religious freedom bill that Brewer vetoed in 2014.

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu are among the state’s most vocal opponents of undocumented immigrants. Babeu, who has run for Congress twice, came out as gay in 2012 amid allegations he was in a relationship with an undocumented immigrant.

“Arizona is a state where the intent of all of these policies is to see how they work or how those that pass in other states can improve them,” Bailón told the Blade, referring specifically to SB 1070. “Many white people and Republicans — and not only Republicans, but Democrats also — I think are really trying to maintain this status quo that allows them to remain in power and to continue to dictate what happens to communities of color.”

Ylenia Aguilar, a member of the Osborn School District Governing Board in Phoenix, largely agreed with Bailón when she spoke with the Blade at a restaurant in downtown Phoenix on July 19.

Aguilar, who was born in Mexico’s Veracruz state and learned she was undocumented when she was in high school, was able to normalize her immigration status under the Violence Against Women’s Act because her mother is a survivor of domestic violence. Aguilar, who is now married, became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

Aguilar is an organizer for UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization, and a Human Rights Campaign supporter. She is also an interpreter for undocumented immigrants who go before federal judges in Phoenix.

Aguilar, whose paternal grandfather in Mexico was gay, pointed out to the Blade her school board is the only one in Arizona that has publicly criticized the Trump administration over the separation of migrant children from their parents. She also acknowledged immigration was among the issues about which voters were angry going into the 2016 election.

“I was conflicted by that,” she said. “I was like, you had the opportunity to vote all your life and you chose not to. There are people crossing the desert, risking their lives. Eighty percent (of women) get raped. Children and women get raped. They die. They die of heat exhaustion. They’re exposing their lives obviously because going through that journey is way better than what they have in their native countries, so I never take that for granted.”

‘Immigration is interesting here’

The Blade reported from Arizona less than six weeks before the state’s primary elections, which took place on Tuesday.

Arpaio, who Trump pardoned in 2017 after his criminal contempt conviction over his failure to stop profiling Latinos as part of his campaign against undocumented immigrants, and former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward lost to Congresswoman Martha McSally in the Republican primary for retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)’s seat. McSally will face off against Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, an openly bisexual Democrat who voted for a 2015 bill that sought to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettling in the U.S., in November.

David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, will square off against incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in the general election. A RGA (Republican Governors Association) PAC ad that aired on a Phoenix television on July 23 said Garcia’s election as governor would mean “more drugs smuggled across our border” and “more gang members in our neighborhoods.”

“Immigration is interesting here,” Aguilar told the Blade. “Just the narrative here is interesting.”

“It’s sad,” she added. “My families that I serve live in fear.”

Ylenia Aguilar is a member of the Osborn School District Governing Board in Phoenix. She was born in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Ylenia Aguilar)

Bailón described Arizona’s politics to the Blade as “super messed up.” He and his colleagues further stressed the state’s laws continue to target immigrants, the LGBTI community, sex workers and other marginalized groups.

“We are seeing various tactics that are being used to ensure that these people don’t have a voice or a vote,” said Bailón.

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Congresswoman Martha McSally were among the candidates in the Republican primary for the seat that U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will vacate at the end of his term. These campaign signs were along the side of a road in Gila Bend, Ariz., on July 19, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael //

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