National Week of Action Puts More Pressure on ICE to Release Transgender Woman from All-Male Immigration Detention

Efforts pressuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a transgender woman and Guatemala native, from an all-male immigration detention facility in Florence have officially gone national.

Tucson's Mariposas Sin Fronteras, Phoenix-based Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Oakland's Transgender Law Center, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement from the LA area (and many other LGBT and immigration rights advocacy groups from around the country) will hold protests and several events starting  today and going  through Thursday. 

I spoke with Olga Tomchin, who recently ended her justice fellowship with the Transgender Law Center, and she said protests will be popping up in Phoenix, L.A. and as far as New York.

Nicoll, 24, was detained in October 2014, after she reached the Arizona-Sonora border and turned herself in, saying she needed asylum in the U.S. For about a decade, she had endured physical, emotional and sexual violence both in Guatemala and later in Mexico, where she lived since her late teens, for being transgender. 

In detention, she was thrown back into the circle of abuse she's been trying to escape for years. 

We first heard about Nicoll in January, when Mariposas Sin Fronteras sent a letter detailing some of her experiences with other detainees and some guards:
In her first month in detention, Nicoll was patted down 6-8 times a day by male guards, who Nicoll reported would grope her breasts and buttocks, make offensive sexual comments and gestures, and sometimes pull her hair. In addition to physically harassing Nicoll, ICE staff routinely verbally abuse her because of her gender identity. Nicoll has informed Tucson-based LGBTQ group Mariposas Sin Fronteras that she has been called slurs including “f***ing gay,” “bitch,” and “the woman with balls” in front of other detainees. Witnesses have heard a female guard refer repeatedly to Nicoll as “it”. Nicoll was recently punished by ICE for standing up for her human dignity by being placed in solitary confinement for "insolence."
"The whole idea is to push ICE to release her as soon as possible without having to wait until April when her bond hearing will take place," says Raul Alcaraz Ochoa, Tucson LGBT and immigration activist and one of the creators of Mariposas Sin Fronteras. "We have a community here, waiting for her, she has connections to this community, and she doesn't pose a threat to this society."

If Nicoll isn't released this month, her bond hearing is set for April 15, where a judge will hopefully put a price to her freedom. At that time, Mariposas Sin Fronteras and other Nicoll supporters will raise funds to bail her out. Her asylum hearing is on  April 22, where within hours a judge will decide whether Nicoll gets to stay or not. If the judge refuses asylum, Nicoll's attorneys, Heather Hamel and Vidula Patki plan to appeal.

The two are appalled by ICE's attitude throughout this whole episode. 

"ICE has really great policies on paper, with (their) housing decision for detained immigrants, they are supposed to take into consideration the gender identity of the immigrants, as well as potential threat to safety, Nicoll is an example of how they have failed to uphold those policies," Hamel says. "Obviously Nicoll's gender identity is female and obviously her safety is placed at risk every single day that she remains in an all-male detention."

Hamel and Patki have repeatedly asked ICE to at least transfer Nicoll to an all-female detention center and they have refused. 

The first rally of the week is happening this morning, outside ICE's headquarters in Phoenix. 

Also, this is a petition that has been going around: