January 19, 2020 at 11:09 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Group demands ICE release trans woman in ‘life-or-death medical crisis’
The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

An advocacy group says a transgender woman who is in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in New Mexico is “in a life-or-death medical crisis.”

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project, an Albuquerque-based immigrant advocacy group, in a Jan. 16 press release says ICE last December released a trans asylum seeker from El Salvador identified as J.H. from the Cibola County Correctional Center where she had been detained for nearly a year.

The press release notes ICE released J.H. after she successfully proved her life “would be in grave danger if she were returned to El Salvador.”

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project says J.H. “became gravely ill” and was hospitalized for several days at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque. The press release notes ICE once again detained her on Jan. 13, two days after her release from the hospital, and returned her to the Cibola County Correctional Center.

The press release notes J.H. had a seizure within 24 hours after ICE detained her and she “is reportedly in very bad condition.”

“Advocates and lawyers from Santa Fe Dreamers Project have been in round the clock communication with ICE leadership in ABQ (Albuquerque) demanding that she be released or, at the very least, she is brought to proper medical care,” says the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. “She has not been provided her routine medication or the antibiotics she was prescribed at Lovelace.”

Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cibola County Correctional Center is roughly 80 miles west of Albuquerque in rural Cibola County.

CoreCivic, a private company once known as the Corrections Corporation of America, operates the facility. ICE in 2017 opened a unit specifically for trans woman at the Cibola County Correctional Center.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who had briefly been detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center, died at Lovelace Medical Center on May 25, 2018.

This reporter is among the handful of journalists who ICE invited to tour the facility last June. More than two dozen trans women at the Cibola County Correctional Center in a letter they sent to Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based group that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants, roughly two weeks after the reporters’ visit complained about inadequate medical care and staffers who “psychologically and verbally” mistreated them.

ICE has been sharply criticized over the treatment of trans women at other detention centers around the country. More than 40 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week called for ICE to release all trans people who are in their custody.

An ICE spokesperson did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the Santa Fe Dreamers Project’s claims. ICE in previous interviews and statements has nevertheless defended its treatment of trans people 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.

“Cibola is not equipped to handle this,” Santa Fe Dreamers Project Advocacy Director Alma Rosa Silva Bañuelos, who also works with the Trans Latin@ Coalition, told the Blade on Saturday in reference to J.H. “She needs to be hospitalized.”

Santa Fe Dreamers Project Executive Director Allegra Love agreed.

“We are deeply concerned for J.H’s welfare and, based on our knowledge of the poor standards of medical care in ICE facilities and in particular Cibola County, unable to believe ICE when they tell us that she is receiving proper medical services,” said Love in the press release. “J.H. is not currently receiving the medication she has been prescribed, and we are concerned that without medical care, her death may be imminent.”

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

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