ICE Closes The Only Transgender Migrant Detention Unit in the U.S.

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jan 31, 2020

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) temporarily shut down New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Facility on Tuesday (January 28), according to an emailed press release from social justice organization Trans Queer Pueblo. It is the only detention unit for transgender migrants in the United States.

"ICE recognizes the unique, long-term health care management needs of detainees who identify as transgender and wants to ensure transgender detainees have access to every resource available at ICE’s disposal," an ICE spokesperson said in a statement, according to USA TodayThe newspaper also reports that ICE officials said they are working with CoreCivic, the facility’s owner, to improve conditions at Cibola and would not confirm if the shutdown was permanent or not.

Trans Queer Pueblo reported that a group of trans women who were detained at the facility can take credit for the victory. Known as #Cibola29, they secretly wrote letters that exposed ICE abuses and sent them to media outlets, such as USA Today who in December 2019 said they had received ten.

There is a history of abuse against trans women in ICE detention. In May 2018, 33-year-old Roxana Hernández, a Honduran transgender woman, died in custody in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union accused a different center in Chaperral, New Mexico with “rampant sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse” of transgender migrants in March 2019, in a letter to ICE and the facility’s warden. And in June 2019, The Guardian reported the death of 25-year-old Johana Medina León from El Salvador in an El Paso center. 

As Colorlines previously reported after the death of Hernández:

A coalition of transgender and immigrant rights groups earlier this week called on the federal government to release all transgender detainees, given the abuse they often suffer in detention.

“ICE has shown time and again it is incapable of protecting transgender women in detention,” Flor Bermúdez, legal director at Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. “Transgender people should not be detained by ICE, at all.”

The abuses seem likely to continue. According to Trans Queer Pueblo, on Tuesday (January 28), 13 trans women at Cibola were transferred to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington, that houses cisgender men. As a result, the organization is still pressuring ICE to permanently close Cibola and launch an investigation into the abuses of trans detainees.