Guatemalan Trans Woman Released After Harrowing Six Months in Immigration Detention
Trans immigrant rights advocates are celebrating the April release and granting of asylum for Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a 24-year-old Guatemalan trans woman who was allegedly sexually abused, then temporarily placed in solitary confinement by officials, when she was held at an all-male Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Florence, Ariz., for more than six months.
The Tucson Weekly reports that Hernández-Polanco has been supported by Mariposas Sin Fronteras, a Tucson LGBTQ and immigrant rights group, who helped raise $3,000 for her bond, and has been helping her since she was granted asylum April 22. However, the indignities she faced remain a daily reality for many other trans and queer immigrants currently held by immigration authorities, say advocates.
In October, Hernández-Polanco sought asylum in the U.S. after facing constant violent attacks, harassment, sexual abuse, and discrimination in Guatemala. She was detained by ICE and placed in an all-male detention facility in Florence, Ariz.
After presenting her case to border patrol, she was detained by ICE officers, who claimed that her past deportations — which occured when she was an unaccompanied minor trying to flee transphobic violence, according to the Transgender Law Center — rendered her a priority for detention under President Obama’s recent executive action surrounding immigration.
While detained, Hernández-Polanco faced abuse and sexual assault at the hands of fellow detainees and ICE staff as she awaited a hearing in her asylum case, she said in a statement to her attorneys. She described how male ICE guards patted her down six to eight times every day, often allegedly groping her breasts and buttocks, making offensive sexual comments and gestures, and sometimes pulling her hair. She also reported that ICE staff routinely verbally abused her because of her gender identity, including being called slurs like “fucking gay,” “bitch,” and “the woman with balls” in front of other detainees.
Her attorneys told the Trans Law Center they witnessed a female guard referring repeatedly to Hernández-Polanco as "it." When Hernández-Polanco stood up against this alleged treatment, she was placed in solitary confinement for "insolence." Hernández-Polanco informed authorities, she said, that she was sexually assaulted by another detained immigrant in December, but has not heard any response about the facility's purported investigation. Hernández-Polanco also stated that even though her alleged attacker was initially separated from her, the two were later housed in the same sleeping unit temporarily.
LGBT immigrant rights activists have for years been calling for federal attention to the heightened physical and sexual violence that LGBT people, and especially trans women, face while held in immigration detention. Further, many have pointed out that the president's guidance concerning immigrants indicates that only violent offenders should be held by ICE, notes GLAAD.
In January, Transgender Law Center released a "Free Nicoll" petition with other LGBT and immigrant rights organizations, calling for the release of Hernández-Polanco, as well as asking the public to send letters to ICE's official "public advocate," Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. Rallies for justice in Hernández-Polanco's case were held in Arizona, Utah, New York, and other states throughout March.