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After a campaign to free Maura, a 41-year-old transgender woman from Nicaragua, generated over 14,000 emails to the ICE San Diego Field Office, the Department of Homeland Security agency has finally released Maura to freedom after detaining her for over 800 days in a facility accused of medical neglect and failing to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

Following her release, Maura said: “I am so, so happy. I still can’t believe it. I thought I wasn’t going to get out of that place, I thought I wasn’t going to get out of that hell. It was very difficult, very traumatic, very horrible. I thought I was alone in this world. I thought it wasn’t worth it to keep fighting. And then I realized that there were people around the world, who I didn’t even know, very good people who have been very supportive. They supported me by sending me letters, they gave me moral support. I am very happy for all that, very grateful.”

A campaign consisting of Amnesty International, American Friends Service Committee Colorado, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the [email protected] Coalition, succeeded in advocating for ICE to re-review Maura’s case. A lawful permanent resident for over 25 years in the U.S., Maura attended high school in San Diego, held numerous jobs in the food service industry, and built a community that accepts and embraces her. She is seeking humanitarian protection to stay in the United States as she fears for her life if returned to Nicaragua, a country she has not known for decades, as a trans woman. ICE detained her for over two years at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California, where she was subjected to abuse and the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. 

“Maura has finally been able to reunite with her friends and loved ones in freedom and join her sponsors—individuals who support community-based solutions over detention—in California as she continues to pursue her right to seek humanitarian protection to stay in the United States,” said Denise Bell, the researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA. “While we celebrate Maura’s freedom and resilience, the work is not done until all trans people are released from ICE custody and the detention of trans people ends once and for all.”

Activists, organizational advocates, and Amnesty supporters in the United States and around the world hosted Pride events in June campaigning for Maura’s freedom. The [email protected] Coalition delivered a joint letter to Secretary Mayorkas with 33 organizations calling for Maura’s release and the National Immigrant Justice Center brought her situation to the attention of the offices of Senator Padilla and Representative Vargas, who lodged requests to ICE to re-review her case in consideration of release.

Tania Linares Garcia, Senior Litigation Attorney of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said:“We are thrilled for Maura’s freedom and grateful for the team of activists and lawyers who worked together to secure her release. 800 days in ICE detention is 800 days too many. While we celebrate, we are well aware that until all trans people are released from ICE, our work is not done.”  

Bamby Salcedo, President/CEO of The [email protected] Coalition, said: We are grateful that we were able to partner with other amazing and dedicated organizations to #FreeMaura, but just like Maura, there are other trans women who continue to be detained and receive inhumane treatment while in immigration detention. That is why we want for members of our community to be free! We are going to continue to advocate for the release of all trans women detained in immigration.

Jordan Garcia, Program Director with the American Friends Service Committee, said: Maura’s freedom lifts our spirits as we work to free all people from our inhumane detention system. Through her fight for freedom we are emboldened to demand the justice that all people deserve. We wish her all the best.

On July 9, Representative Quigley and over 40 offices urged DHS and ICE to release all transgender individuals and people living with HIV currently in ICE detention, and to formally and publicly announce that ICE will no longer detained transgender individuals and people living with HIV but instead utilize release into the community or alternative to detention programming.

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