Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative Demand ICE Release Abused Transgender Detainees


November 7, 2019

Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative Demand ICE Release Abused Transgender Detainees

Clients report severe mistreatment while in ICE custody

Tucson, AZ – The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Florence Project) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) today are calling on Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately release two transgender women, Alejandra and Anahí, who have reported extreme abuse, mistreatment, misconduct, and violence in ICE custody. Florence Project and KBI further call on ICE to approve all transgender migrants for release under parole to due urgent humanitarian concerns. Anahí and Alejandra’s experiences demonstrate that transgender migrants are not safe in immigration detention.

Alejandra and Anahí have reported serious and ongoing instances of harassment and assault while detained. Though both women clearly and repeatedly articulated their gender identities, they continue to be detained with men, in accordance with general ICE practice.

“Detaining transgender women with males puts the women in danger of harassment, abuse, and assault, as we have seen time and again with the experiences our clients have described,” said Laura St. John, Florence Project Legal Director. “Alejandra and Anahí have repeatedly told us that they do not feel safe and their experiences in detention have been detrimental to their physical and mental health.”

After receiving humanitarian aid at Kino Border Initiative’s center in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Alejandra and Anahí came to the U.S. in June and July 2019 respectively, both seeking asylum after enduring severe, persistent, and violent persecution in their home countries because of their gender identity. They both suffered severe violence in their journeys to the United States, and when they arrived, instead of encountering the safety and protection they sought, both have been subject to constant harassment and threats by the guards charged with protecting them as well as threats and assault by the men with whom they are detained.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity, regardless of their gender identity” said Joanna Williams, Director of Education and Advocacy at KBI. “ICE must immediately release Anahí and Alejandra because their experiences in detention are unacceptable and ICE has been unwilling and unable to provide them with safety or humane conditions.”

Anahí has reported abuse, neglect and misconduct by guards and staff. Immediately upon her arrival in detention, she was taunted and misgendered by the guards, while simultaneously being terrorized by insults and threats from the men with whom she was housed. Anahí reported the escalating threats to an employee, who laughed in her face. Days later, she was attacked by the man she reported. Despite multiple eyewitnesses to the attack, Anahí was forced to continue living in close quarters with her attacker. She began to fear for her life and stopped leaving her room. Her mental health, already impacted by a lifetime of trauma, deteriorated, yet detention center psychiatrists and counselors denied her access to prescribed medication and, ignoring real threats of violence and past incidents, suggested her mental health would improve if she left her cell more.

Alejandra also reported abuse at the hands of both guards and staff, suffering specifically from solitary confinement. Extended solitary confinement is considered torture by many international experts, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and is applied extensively to transgender women in ICE custody, under the name of administrative segregation. After an altercation with a man who had taken a romantic interest in her, Alejandra was placed in solitary confinement. Though she was told that the confinement was not punitive, she languished in isolation for a month, while the man involved was only placed in solitary confinement for a few days. Shortly after returning to her pod, Alejandra was again assaulted. Because of her experience, she did not dare report this incident. When she endured a third assault, she reported both incidents to detention center employees, ICE, and local law enforcement. She was then placed back in solitary confinement. As a transgender woman, she is highly vulnerable to false accusations of sexual misconduct even though she is the one at risk under ICE’s practice of detaining her with men.

During the duration of Alejandra and Anahí’s detention, their legal teams have submitted multiple requests for their release under humanitarian parole, arguing that, by definition, it is unsafe to detain transgender women. These requests included accounts of the multiple assaults that Alejandra and Anahí have endured in detention and the challenges both women faced obtaining adequate medical and psychological services. Each request has been denied, citing ICE’s belief that transgender women can be safely detained, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Alejandra and Anahí continue to suffer abuse, misconduct and violence in detention, despite their legal teams’ advocacy and the clear danger they face. We call on ICE to immediately release Alejandra and Anahí and to release all transgender people who remain in extreme risk of danger as long as they are in ICE custody.


About the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project: The Florence Project provides free legal and social services to detained immigrants in Arizona facing removal proceedings. Founded in 1989, the Florence Project has served adults in immigration detention for 30 years and has served children since 2000.

About the Kino Border Initiative: The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) is a binational organization located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. KBI provides humanitarian aid to migrants in Nogales, Sonora and engages in education and advocacy on both sides of the border with a vision of promoting humane, just, workable migration.