Carrying signs and three brightly painted pink coffins, transgender immigrant rights activists and their supporters marched on the White House June 23 to demand an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention of transgendered and HIV+ people. The coffins symbolized the deaths of three trans women, Roxsana Hernández, Victoria Arellano and Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, who died between 2018 and now while in ICE custody or shortly thereafter. (Washington Blade, June 23)
The protest began with a commemorative service for the three women at the National City Christian Church. Trans migrant organizers read statements about the three women and conditions faced by trans, HIV+ and other at-risk migrants in detention camps.
The service was emceed by Issa Noyola, deputy director of Mijente, one of the migrant rights groups that organized this event. Noyola spoke against the injustices faced by trans migrants and played a recorded statement from Roxsana Hernández’s nephew in Honduras.
After the service, trans migrant activists took to the streets and marched to the White House to bring their message to President Joe Biden. In the march were over 25 trans women recently released from ICE detention centers. The marchers blocked traffic for several minutes at 16th and H streets, N.W., near what has been renamed “Black Lives Matter” Plaza. The protesters then entered Lafayette Square for a closing rally.
Protesters left the three coffins propped on a fence in front of the White House.
Jennicet Gutiérrez of End Trans Detention Now told reporters on the steps of the National City Christian Church that trans people were tired of waiting for justice. “They want us to wait? We don’t have time — we don’t want to have another name added to the long list of people [who] have died in detention,” she said. (Daily Beast, June 24)
Gutiérrez is an organizer with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, one of the groups that sponsored the national protest. In 2015, she interrupted President Barack Obama at an LGBTQ+ Pride event at the White House, yelling, “Release all LGBTQ [from] detention centers! President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers! President Obama, I am a trans woman. I’m tired of the abuse.” Gutiérrez was interviewed on Democracy Now! the day after the June 25 protest and described some of the many cases of abuse of trans migrants by ICE. (Democracy Now!, June 24)
The struggle of trans migrant people locked in detention has finally started receiving national attention. The June 23 protest was the culmination of several actions in cities across the U.S. demanding “No Pride in Detention! #End Trans Detention Now!” A week before the June 23 march, eight immigrant rights groups sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson demanding the U.S. government release all trans migrants and people living with HIV/AIDS from ICE detention.
Trans migrant activists are determined to continue fighting for justice until all transgender migrants and people living with HIV/AIDS are released from ICE custody. There is an ongoing petition and other information available at their website: endtransdetention.org.