MILAN, NM - Salvadoran asylum seeker Alejandra Barrera, a transgender woman who has been locked up in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail in New Mexico for 19 months, filed a legal action in federal court today to demand her release.
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on Ms. Barrera’s behalf, arguing that her prolonged detention violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process protections against indefinite detention. Ms. Barrera, an arriving asylum seeker, has requested parole a total of five times since her arrival in the United States in November 2017, but has never had the opportunity to appear before a judge to determine whether her detention is justified.
“Alejandra’s detention for over 19 months highlights the difficulty asylum seekers face in getting released from detention, particularly where their only chance of release rests solely on ICE’s discretion,” said NIJC Senior Attorney Tania Linares Garcia. “The women of the Cibola transgender ward have written letters attesting to the lack of food, medical care and other basic needs. Alejandra has been held in these conditions without an opportunity to have a judge determine whether her detention is justified.”
Ms. Barrera is filing her habeas petition after ICE once again denied her request for release on parole. This denial came even after the government conceded that her asylum case should receive further review by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and after the Tenth Circuit granted a stay of removal in her case finding that she is likely to succeed on the merits of her appeal. Ms. Barrera’s federal lawsuit challenging her continued detention comes after months of tireless advocacy led by Amnesty International and TransLatin@ Coalition and supported by various members of Congress.
“Amnesty International has grave concerns about ICE’s conduct in its handling of Alejandra’s parole requests,” said Alli Jarrar, North America campaigner for Amnesty International. “It is unconscionable that Alejandra has been detained for over a year and a half. We have been campaigning globally for Alejandra’s release, and we won’t stop until she is free.”
While detained, Ms. Barrera has experienced various progressive medical issues that have gone unaddressed at the Cibola jail. If left untreated, her condition could permanently affect her cognitive abilities and cause severe complications or even death, according to an independent expert who reviewed Ms. Barrera’s medical records in October 2018. The lack of medical treatment she has experienced is indicative of ICE’s failure to meet the medical needs of transgender women detained in Cibola. A group of women held in the jail's trangender unit recently sent open letters to NIJC and other advocates decrying inhumane conditions and medical neglect they have suffered.
"It is important that our federal government understands and recognizes the horrible experiences that trans women go through in immigration detention,” said Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. “Alejandra did not need to be detained for this long which has caused her so much pain and trauma. Granting Alejandra the ability to be released would support and start the healing process that Alejandra has to go through because she has the love of her community."
Alejandra’s habeas petition demands that ICE immediately release her from custody or, at minimum, provide a bond hearing before a judge.