About 30 immigration and LGBT activists and allies from Tucson, Phoenix and even Oakland gathered at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix this morning with megaphones and signs in English and Spanish that read, "Free Nicoll," "Trans Lives Matter," and other support messages for Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a transgender woman from Guatemala, who has been in an all-male immigration detention center in Florence for about four months now.
Tucson immigration and LGBT rights advocate Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa was there, with fellow members of BorderLinks, Mariposas Sin Fronteras
, Arcoiris Liberation Team
and Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project.
Two young attorneys from Oakland's the Transgender Law Center
The march headed to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Phoenix headquarters, where the group protested the abuse transgender detainees suffer in detention—in the short time Nicoll has been in ICE's Florence facility, she has already reported verbal, physical and sexual abuse
. ICE responded
they take these issues very seriously.
The gathering was peaceful. Police and other law enforcement didn't approach with any issues. However, when a group of activists, among them Alcaraz Ochoa, walked into the ICE courtyard to deliver a letter demanding for Nicoll's immediate release—they have this online petition, too: http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/freenicoll/
—ICE agents said they would not accept the letter because there were members of the media present. I counted less than 10 of us and only I from Tucson.
Anyway, one of the Phoenix transgender activists present, Viktoria Villalba, grabbed the megaphone and announced ICE did not want to accept the letter because, "They are scared of us."
"They are inhumane. They abuse us in detention," she screamed.
I spoke with a trans woman from Sinaloa, Mexico, Marichuy Leal, who was released from detention about one month ago. She, too, was put in an all-male detention center, and like Nicoll, was sexually assaulted by detainees. When she told guards in detention what was happening, Marichuy said they told her to “deal with it.” Is this what they would tell their daughters, too?
She was on the same boat as Nicoll. They’re both pleading for asylum in the U.S. afters years of violent abuse in their native countries for being trans, except Marichuy is now free while she waits for a decision, and Nicoll is still imprisoned.
Nicoll has an asylum hearing in April, and her lawyer, advocates and other supporters hope she can wait for that outside detention.