Nicoll photo (1)Transgender asylum seeker faces abuse in immigration detention

ICE refuses to release vulnerable rape survivor from for-profit immigration detention facility

Nicoll Hernández-Polanco is a Guatemalan transgender woman currently being detained at the behest of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an all-male facility in Florence, AZ.  Nicoll presented herself to border patrol agents at the United States border in October 2014 and immediately requested asylum after suffering nearly a decade of sexual and physical violence in Guatemala and Mexico because of her gender identity. Instead of finding safety, Nicoll has experienced continual sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of ICE staff and other detained immigrants for being a transgender woman.

In her first month in detention, Nicoll was patted down 6-8 times a day by male guards, who Nicoll reported would grope her breasts and buttocks, make offensive sexual comments and gestures, and sometimes pull her hair.   In addition to physically harassing Nicoll, ICE staff routinely verbally abuse her because of her gender identity.  Nicoll has informed her attorneys that she has been called slurs including “f***ing gay,” “bitch,” and “the woman with balls” in front of other detainees.  Her attorneys witnessed a female guard refer repeatedly to Nicoll as “it”. Nicoll was recently punished by ICE for standing up for her human dignity by being placed in solitary confinement for “insolence.”

In addition to the harassment of the guards, Nicoll is also particularly vulnerable to abuse from male detainees.  Nicoll is required to shower with, use the restroom with, and sleep in the same room as men.   As a result, in early December, Nicoll was sexually assaulted by another detained immigrant. Despite immediately filing a complaint that facility staff has purportedly been investigating, the conclusions of any investigation have not been disclosed to Nicoll.   Nicoll also stated that even though her attacker was initially separated from her, the two were later housed in the same sleeping unit temporarily.  Unfortunately, as recently reported by Fusion (, Nicoll’s experience is very typical for immigrant trans women in detention: although transgender women make up only 1 out of every 500 detainees, they make up a shocking 1 out of every 5 substantiated cases of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities.

Karolina López, a formerly detained trans woman points out, “I know perfectly well the detention conditions Nicoll is experiencing and it can only be summarized in one word: inhumane.” Viviana Serrano concludes, “As a trans woman in detention, I was once in Nicoll’s shoes. This is why I know the urgency in getting her released now. We demand her immediate release because ICE is incapable of ever providing her with a safe environment. ”

Isa Noyola, Program Manager at Transgender Law Center, states, “What Nicoll is facing at the detention center is part of the larger reality of violence that im/migrant trans women of color face in our society at large. Our communities are rallying together demanding her release and an end to immigration detention for all transgender women.”

Even though a local Tucson LGBTQ community group, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, has been providing support to Nicoll and is willing to house and care for her during her asylum case, ICE has refused to release her. ICE claims that her past deportations when she was an unaccompanied minor trying to flee transphobic violence render her a priority for detention under President Obama’s recent immigration executive action announcement.

Transgender Law Center had previously expressed grave concerns about how despite being disproportionately harmed by immigration enforcement and detention, LGBTQ people and especially transgender women of color are disproportionately excluded from the President’s relief. (  Additionally, a large coalition of over 115 LGBTQ, immigrant rights, and allied organizations called on the White House last month to immediately release LGBTQ people like Nicoll from immigration detention due to the dangerous conditions they face in detention (

Transgender Law Center and other LGBTQ/immigrant rights organizations have created a petition asking ICE to immediately release Nicoll: