A transgender woman detained by ICE for 20 months has finally been freed after a sustained advocacy campaign by her attorney and several non-profit organisations.
Alejandra Barrera came to the US in 2017, fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, where she was beaten, extorted, and sexually assaulted by gang members and the El Salvadoran military.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world and the UN has called for an investigation into the unprecedented levels of violence against transgender women in particular.
In spite of this, Barrera was repeatedly denied asylum in the US. She was detained indefinitely by ICE in a New Mexico detention centre and refused treatment for a progressive medical condition.
The National Immigrant Justice Centre said that “if left untreated, her illness could permanently affect her cognitive abilities and could cause severe complications and even death”.
With this in mind, Barrera requested that she be released on parole while awaiting an immigration judge’s decision, but this was denied five times.
Several non-profit organisations, including Amnesty International and the TransLatin@ Coalition, campaigned for months on Barrera’s behalf, arguing that her prolonged detention violated the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
A Change.org petition demanding her freedom received more than 36,000 signatures and raised awareness of Barerra’s case using the hashtag #FreeAlejandra.
It attracted lawmakers’ attention, and 34 members of congress sent a letter to ICE calling on the department to “seriously consider the asylum claims of transgender migrants who demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on their ‘membership in a particular social group’ and adhere to its own policies regulating the treatment of transgender detainees”.
As a result of these persistent advocacy efforts, Barrera was finally freed from her prolonged detention after nearly two years. However, her asylum status is still not secure and she must continue to fight against her deportation.
Transgender activist Bamby Salcedo gave thanks in a video posted on the TransLatin@ Coalition Facebook page. “My heart is so full of joy, because it’s just amazing that the efforts of so many different people participated in making sure that she come home,” she said.
“There was no reason why she was being denied the opportunity to fight her case on the outside.”
At 20 months, Barrera’s period of detainment was the longest ever for a trans woman at the facility. Activists claim her experience is representative of the widespread mistreatment of all trans women in ICE custody.
According to the Washington Blade, ICE estimates that at least 111 transgender people are currently being held in US detention centres.
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