Our Legal and Policy Work
Transgender immigrants face unique and sometimes daunting barriers. Without viable economic alternatives due to pervasive discrimination in all areas of their lives, and facing harassment and profiling by law enforcement, transgender undocumented immigrant women are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and ICE detention. Transgender immigrants who arrive to the United States seeking asylum are subject to mandatory detention. The systematic problem of degrading-treatment against transgender women in ICE detention includes sexual assault, denial of medical care, extended periods of solitary confinement, discrimination and abuse.
Transgender Law Center addresses these issues by offering assistance to transgender immigrants by reporting and filing complaints regarding these abuses, helping transgender immigrants in detention find immigration attorneys, advocating for obtaining appropriate medical care, and obtaining documentation that matches their gender identity.
We also provide “know your rights” information to transgender asylum-seekers, and make referrals or partner with local and national immigration attorneys to file civil rights litigation on behalf of transgender immigrants.
Transgender Law Center (TLC) and the Law Office of Andrew R. Free have filed a Notice of Wrongful Death Tort Claim in New Mexico, the first step in holding all parties responsible for Roxsana Hernandez’s death accountable. Roxsana Hernandez was a Honduran transgender woman and an asylum seeker who arrived with a caravan organized by Diversidad Sin Fronteras. She arrived in Tijuana and sought asylum by presenting herself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (SYPOE) in May. What followed was a hellish ordeal of being held in U.S. Customs & Border Protection custody in the notoriously cold holding areas, known as “hieleras,” growing increasingly ill as a result of the inhumane conditions. She was repeatedly denied access to medical care she begged for, ultimately dying in custody less than a month after presenting herself for asylum.
An independent autopsy conducted by TLC and the Law Office of Andrew R. Free found that she had deep bruising and injuries consistent with physical abuse with a baton or asp while she was handcuffed, and died of dehydration and complications related to HIV.
TLC collaborated with Osiris Dayana’s immigration attorney to help her obtain hormone replacement therapy while in immigration detention and we filed an affirmation in support of her asylum case. In January 2016, Osiris Dayana was granted asylum.
TLC co-counseled with Court to file an appeal to the Ninth Circuit arguing that the Court reverse the BIA’s decision and grant Ms. Martinez withholding of removal or relief under the Convention Against Torture because the record established that Ms. Martinez was persecuted on account of her gender identity and sexual orientation, that she suffered past persecution, and that she faces persecution caused by either the government or a source that the government is unable or unwilling to control.
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 has experienced continual sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of ICE staff and other detained immigrants for being a transgender woman. TLC helped start a public campaign to free Nicoll and assisted her immigration attorney. Nicoll was granted asylum in April 2015.
Marichuy Leal Gamino is a transgender woman who has been detained by ICE for over a year at the for-profit private Eloy detention center in Arizona. At Eloy, she has been imprisoned with men and was recently raped by her cellmate.
While in detention Marichuy has reported experiencing sexual harassment, bullying, lewd comments, and threats of rape for weeks. TLC helped start a public campaign to free Nicoll. Nicoll was released on bond in January 2015.
TLC joined NQAPIA’s amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that challenged President Obama’s Executive Actions on immigration, which expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and created a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. NQAPIA’s brief informs the U.S. Supreme Court of the specific concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Asian Americans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders (API). An estimated 267,000 undocumented immigrants are LGBT, of which a disproportionate share is API.
TLC joined NJINC’s Amicus Brief supporting Bringas-Rodirguez’s petition for a re-hearing arguing that the majority’s decision in petitioner’s case created a standard for adjudication of asylum claim based on sexual orientation or gender identity that is improper and unworkable and that this heightened standard severely increases the burden of demonstrating asylum eligibility on Mexican gay men which has far-reaching implications, especially for pro se and detained refugees, children, and people living with HIV.
Policy & Advocacy
In spite of the issuance of the ICE memorandum, transgender women in detention continue to be housed with men, or put in segregation, and the individuals housed in the transgender pod at Santa Ana are subjected to disrespect related to their gender identity, verbal abuse, excessive use of isolation and lockdowns, unnecessary strip searches, and denial of medical care, including transition related treatment.
“Christina is an undocumented transgender woman from Peru who we met during a Santa Ana Detention Center visit. She had been in immigration detention for a year and a half and was in need for medical attention for Hepatitis C, which the detention center has refused to provide. TLC helped Christina find an immigration attorney. We were also able to help her obtain documentation needed to advocate on her behalf for her bond hearing. Christina was finally granted bond and released in March of 2016.”
“Cristina es una mujer transgénero indocumentada de Perú que conocimos durante una visita del centro de detención de Santa Ana. Ella había estado detenida durante un año y medio, y necesitaba atención médica para la Hepatitis C, ya que el centro de detención le negó dicho tratamiento. TLC ayudó a Christina encontrar una abogada de inmigración. También pudimos ayudarla a obtener la documentación necesaria para abogar en su nombre para su audiencia de fianza. Christina fue concedida finalmente libertad condicional y fue liberada en marzo de 2016”.
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