emerges as an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, the
death last month of a Mexican transgender woman in federal
custody has sparked outrage among LGBT and immigrant
Arellano, 23, died July 20 in the intensive care unit of a
hospital in Los Angeles's San Pedro district. U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained
the undocumented immigrant in May after she entered
the country for the second time.
was the first of three at ICE detention facilities
across the country in recent weeks, The Washington
and the Latino advocacy group Bienestar plan a vigil
Monday in Los Angeles. Her death and the movement's overall
response to it reflect the broader immigration debate
among LGBT activists at the local, state, and national
Arellano, who was
HIV-positive, first came to the United States as a
child, the Los Angeles Daily Journal reported.
She had worked at a West Hollywood supermarket and
volunteered at a Hollywood drug and alcohol abuse
routinely denied Arellano the antibiotic dapasone and other
necessary medications to treat HIV-related side effects,
published reports indicate. Her mother, Olga, and her
fellow detainees at San Pedro confirmed these accounts
to the Daily Journal and other publications
ICE's decision to
house Arellano in a male facility in San Pedro was
particularly problematic, said Michael Silverman, executive
director of the Transgender Legal Defense and
"Clearly she was
someone who was openly transgender and presented
herself as a female," Silverman said. "There are a whole
host of reasons to suggest abuse and outright refusal
to provide care at play."
Lori Haley did not respond to these specific allegations
but told Gay.com in a statement that her agency provides
adequate health care to its detainees, spending more
than $98 million on the purpose each year.
priority is ensuring the safety and security of all
those in its custody," Haley said. "All facilities used by
the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain
aliens must comply with rigorous standards that exceed
those imposed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
requirements reflect the agency's commitment to maintain
safe, secure, and humane conditions for aliens in ICE
custody," Haley said.
confirmed that 62 detainees, including Arellano and two
others held in San Pedro, have died in ICE custody
exemplifies what we've been saying for all these years:
Immigration is in fact an LGBT issue," said Coral Lopez,
Bienestar's communications manager. "Victoria's
unfortunate death demonstrates why we need to be
working in coalition on these issues."
it's not an isolated incident," said Victoria Neilson,
legal director of Immigration Equality. "It just shows while
people are in immigration detention, people are just
warehoused and not cared for."
National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman was
more blunt in a statement to Gay.com, blasting both the
agency and the federal government for their
immigration law enforcement policies.
obvious what led to this--fear and loathing of a
person who was HIV-positive, transgender, and an
immigrant," Foreman said. "We should be ashamed of our
government and the violence it inflicts with our tax
The Human Rights
Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation, and Lambda Legal are among the groups that have
used their resources to highlight the issue. Some
within the LGBT movement, however, have questioned
Cannick sparked widespread outrage in April 2006 after
she argued that LGBT people should receive equality before
immigrants. More than 50 activists from across the
country condemned Cannick's comments in an open letter
that The Advocate published a week after it ran
"We reject any
attempts to pit the struggle of multiple communities
against each other," the statement read. "This strategy has
always been used to divide oppressed groups from coming
together to work in coalition."
Arellano's death provides the movement with yet another
opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of many LGBT
and HIV-positive immigrants in federal custody.
"These folks are
often just in the shadows," she said. "A lot of our
own are caught up in the net and subject to particular
case points to policy changes that are needed,"
Silverman said. "The movement and various organizations in
the movement need to put pressure on the government
and ICE to come clean about what happened here."
(Michael K. Lavers, Gay.com)