July 15, 2019 at 12:13 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Trans ICE detainees in NM describe inadequate medical care, mistreatment
The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., has a unit specifically for transgender women who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Twenty-nine trans women who are in the unit have signed an open letter in which they complain about inadequate medical care and mistreatment from staff. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Twenty-nine transgender women who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in rural New Mexico have signed a letter in which they complain about the conditions in which they are living.

The trans women who are detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center signed the handwritten letter written in Spanish that is dated June 26. Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based group that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBT immigrants, provided a copy of it to the Washington Blade.

The letter says there is not “adequate” medical attention to “treat people with disabilities, people with HIV, skin infections” and there is “a lack of medications for many” trans women. The letter also states Cibola County Correctional Center staffers “psychologically and verbally” mistreat them.

“We are afraid of reprisals, but (we are) more afraid to be in this situation,” reads the letter.

Reporters visited trans unit on June 12

CoreCivic, a private company that was once known as the Corrections Corporation of America, operates Cibola County Correctional Center, a minimum-security men’s facility that is roughly 80 miles west of Albuquerque in Cibola County.

A unit for trans ICE detainees opened at the facility in 2017 after the agency’s contract with Santa Ana Jail in Orange County, Calif., which had a unit specifically for trans detainees, ended. The Cibola County Correctional Center also houses cisgender men who are in the custody of ICE, the U.S. Marshals and Cibola County.

Reporters from the Blade; the Associated Press; Univision and a television station in El Paso, Texas, on June 12 visited the unit. The tour, which ICE organized, took place less than 13 months after Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who had been briefly detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center, died in ICE custody at an Albuquerque hospital.

The reporters, among other things, saw six trans detainees playing volleyball with a male staffer in an outdoor recreation area that was adjacent to the unit. The reporters did not tour the portion of the facility in which detainees are kept in solitary confinement.

Alejandra, a prominent trans rights activist from El Salvador who has been in ICE custody since 2017, is detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center. Alejandra is among those who signed the letter.

“This unit’s employees in recent days did activities that are only an opposite image of reality,” it reads.

The Blade has reached out to an ICE spokesperson for comment on the letter.

Transgender women in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody get their hair done at a beauty salon inside the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., on June 6, 2019. ICE provided this picture to reporters after they visited the unit last month. (Photo public domain)

ICE officials have repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people who are in their custody.

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

Adrien Lawyer of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, an Albuquerque-based advocacy organization, on June 12 told the Blade his group “liaisons with ICE” on the treatment of the trans women who are in ICE custody at the Cibola County Correctional Center.

The Blade on June 11 visited the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, an Albuquerque-based group that advocates on behalf of immigrants, and spoke with three trans women who were previously detained in the facility. Inadequate medical care and bad food at the Cibola County Correctional Center are among the issues about which they complained.

From left: Johely, a transgender woman from Mexico’s Nayarit state, speaks with Alma Rosa Silva-Bañeulos of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project’s offices in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 11, 2019. Daniela was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., for several months until her release in January 2019. (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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