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Alejandra Barrera, a transgender Salvadorian activist who had been held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since November 2017, was released late Friday, September 6, 2019, as a result of international advocacy efforts, spearheaded by Amnesty International, the [email protected] Coalition, National Immigrant Justice Center, and dozens of members of the United States Congress.

“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting” said Alejandra in response to advocacy efforts on her behalf.

Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA said: “People have the right to seek safety from persecution. There was no reason why Alejandra should have been locked up for seeking protection. Alejandra’s story is not an isolated case, there are many more trans people seeking asylum in the United States stuck waiting for months in detention centers where they are at risk of ill-treatment because of their gender identity and medical needs. It is cruel and unnecessary for U.S. immigration authorities to detain people fleeing to the U.S. in search of safety from persecution and violence, including brave women like Alejandra.”

Alejandra was detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico for twenty months, where she reported inadequate and unresponsive medical care. Authorities unfairly denied her requests for parole five times and at one point, Alejandra faced imminent deportation. In August 2019, Alejandra’s lawyers from the National Immigrant Justice Center filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Alejandra’s behalf, arguing that her prolonged detention violated due process protections against indefinite detention under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. In response to the habeas, Alejandra was released by ICE.

Tania Linares Garcia, senior attorney with NIJC’s LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Initiative said: “People who flee persecution have a right to seek asylum and no one should have to endure abuse while they pursue that right. While we celebrate that Alejandra now is free, we continue to fight for other transgender women who remain in ICE custody, including our client Kelly* who has been detained for over two years.”

Amnesty International is calling for a fair and full hearing and assessment of Alejandra’s asylum claim, as all people seeking safety in the United States should receive. Amnesty International remains gravely concerned that Alejandra’s life is at great risk if she is denied protection and returned to El Salvador. Amnesty International maintains that transgender and all asylum seekers must be protected at all costs their forcible return. What’s more, those seeking protection should never be detained based solely on their migration status.

Background

Alejandra fought for transgender rights for more than a decade in El Salvador. She was forced to flee after repeated attacks by a criminal gang, as well as abuses by the Salvadoran military. Alejandra was sexually assaulted by both the gang and military personnel because of her transgender identity.

More information:

Amnesty International Calls On ICE to Release Detained Transgender Women’s Rights Activist (press release, June 7, 2018)

Longest Detained Trans Asylum Seeker in New Mexico Detention Center Must Not Be Deported (press release, April 25, 2019)

Welcoming Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Every Person Can Make a Difference This World Refugee Day (press release, June 20, 2018)

USA: Catastrophic Immigration Policies Resulted in More Family Separations Than Previously Disclosed (press release, October 11, 2018)