Activists celebrate release of trans immigrant from ICE custody but say more must be done

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Eva Rosas is finally free but other transgender immigrants are still at risk.

Activists are celebrating the recent release of a transgender woman from ICE detention as a "major victory," but say more must be done to ensure all trans immigrants are granted similar outcomes.

Advocacy group Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement praised the release of Eva Rosas, a 42-year-old trans woman, on March 25.

"Eva Rosas is FREE! This is a community win," the organization posted on Twitter.

Familia is behind the #FreeTiaEva campaign, which has been calling for the Rosas' release since she was detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia nearly two years ago, Gay Community News reported.

Rosas, originally from Veracruz, Mexico, has alleged that she was abused and discriminated against because of her gender while in detention.

"I have faced discrimination because of my gender identity and when I was transferred to ICE that's where my nightmare began," Rosas reported to advocates while she was still locked up, according to a Twitter post from Familia. "I have experienced sexual and physical assault and that has caused me a lot of anxiety."

Rosas claimed that the medical care was substandard and said discrimination by the officers there never seemed to end.

"I don't report it anymore because I know they will send me to solitary confinement and I won't be able to go outside to the yard," Rosas claimed at the time.

Solitary lockup as a punishment for trans inmates is nothing new: According to a 2018 Center for American Progress analysis of ICE's fiscal year 2017 data, 1 in 8 detained transgender people were placed in solitary confinement during their detainment.

The push to get Rosas released was part of a broader effort by Familia, the #EndTransDention campaign, which has called for the release of all trans immigrants, those living with HIV, and those with medical conditions from ICE custody.

"Releasing ALL transgender people from ICE facilities also means putting an end to all detention and releasing everyone currently detained. Transgender people are often fleeing prosecution in their home countries and instead of finding safety, they face abuse, cruelty, detention, and deportation when they get to the US," the group wrote in an open petition letter, which it has urged others to share.

Three trans women who were HIV positive have died in ICE custody in the past 14 years, according to Gay Community News: Victoria Arellano, who died in 2007; Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, who died in in 2018; and Johana "Jao" Medina Leon, who died in 2019.

Neela Ghoshal, who researches LGBTI rights issues for Human Rights Watch, tweeted in early March, "We found #trans detainees in #ICE custody were regularly subjected to humiliating and abusive strip searches by male guards, unable to access necessary medical services including hormone replacement therapy, and endured unreasonable use of solitary confinement."

On the day of Rosas' release, Ghosal added, "#EndTransDetention now. Trans people are subjected to severe and life-threatening human rights abuses in @ICEgov custody and should not be detained."

The 2018 Center for American Progress analysis also revealed that detained LGBTQ immigrants at ICE facilities are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than straight and cisgender detained immigrants. Detained LGBTQ immigrants account for 12% of people who reported sexual assault in 2017 despite comprising 0.1% of those held in ICE custody.

Sharita Gruberg, associate director of the center's LGBT Research and Communications Project, said the findings were unacceptable.

"These actions are reckless ... and will only lead to more LGBT people being sexually victimized on ICE’s watch," she said in a statement at the time.

A 2012 report from the Detention Watch Network, a coalition working to abolish immigration detention, found evidence of abuse, spoiled food and water, and substandard medical care at the Stewart Detention Center where Rosas was detained.

Furthermore, that detention facility is owned by CoreCivic, one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the United States. CoreCivic has in the past faced numerous allegations of abuse and neglect at its facilities, including allegations that officers raped immigrants before they were deported.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.