The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) are taking legal action against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for continuing to detain a transgender woman from Honduras six months after she successfully won asylum in the United States.
Nicole Garcia Aguilar left Honduras in April of last year due to life-threatening mistreatment she suffered because she is transgender, but the ACLU notes that her time spent in US custody has been far from the refuge she hoped it would be. Garcia Aguilar has been held at the Cibola County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, which has become notorious for poor treatment of transgender women, while ICE appeals a judge’s ruling granting her asylum because the agency believes her story was not credible.
The lawsuit charges ICE with violating Garcia Aguilar’s Fifth Amendment due process rights, arguing that she should only be kept in custody if she is a danger to the community or could flee to avoid lawful proceedings. The lawsuit specifically names former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, former ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello, Attorney General William Barr, ICE’s El Paso Field Office director Floyd Sam Farmer, ICE officer Dean King, and Cibola County Correctional Center warden Chad Miller.
Garcia Aguilar was housed in a unit for transgender women when she first entered ICE custody on May 7, 2018, but by the end of that month she was moved to solitary confinement on multiple occasions for days to months at a time. Beginning in February of 2019, she has spent time housed with cisgender men, according to the lawsuit.
The time Garcia Aguilar has spent in solitary confinement has taken a toll on her mental and physical health, according to the ACLU.
When asked about the status of Garcia Arguilar, why she is being held, or when she would be released, an ICE spokesperson only told Gay City News that the agency was researching the inquiry. ICE never followed through on that request by press time and did not respond to a subsequent email seeking comment.
“It is beyond cruel that ICE continues to detain a woman upon whom an immigration judge has already conferred asylum status,” ACLU of New Mexico staff attorney Kristin Greer Love said in a written statement. “Continuing to hold an asylee who has already suffered so greatly serves no purpose other than to inflict misery. We demand that ICE end her prolonged and illegal detention immediately.”
Garcia Aguilar’s new health problems stemming from her extensive detention adds to suffering she already endured in Honduras. Prior to seeking asylum, she was raped, received death threats, survived murder attempts, and was abused by police, according to the ACLU, and at one point she said Honduran police officers told her she was suffering violence “because of the ways she is” and that the violence against her would continue “until she’s dead.”
“Not only is ICE detaining our client illegally, they are doing so in conditions that are harmful and dangerous,” NIJC staff attorney Tania Linares Garcia said. “Ms. Garcia Aguilar has lost a third of her body weight in ICE custody and been traumatized by prolonged solitary confinement. ICE should stop wasting taxpayer dollars and inflicting pointless suffering by continuing to detain a person who has already been granted asylum.”
Cibola County Correctional Center has been in the spotlight recently for related reasons. An independent autopsy on Roxsana Hernandez, who was 33 when she died last May after being held at Cibola, showed that she suffered bruises consistent with abuse, while El Salvadoran trans asylum seeker Alejandra Barrera, also housed there, is facing deportation despite her legitimate concerns about returning home after government officials and gangs hounded her because she is transgender. According to the Los Angeles Blade, ICE has failed to provide her with medical treatment for a serious health condition, which echoes allegations that the agency withheld HIV/ AIDS treatment from Hernandez.