Nicoll Hernández-Polanco says she’s faced transphobia and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse from immigration staff and other detainees in her all-male facility, despite posing no ‘security threat.’
By Mitch Kellaway
The Transgender Law Center Tuesday called for the release of Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a Guatemalan trans woman currently being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at an all-male detention facility in Florence, Ariz.
In a “Free Nicoll” petition written with other LGBT and immigrant rights organizations, the Law Center explains that Hernández-Polanco came to the U.S. in October seeking asylum because of constant violent attacks, harassment, sexual abuse, and discrimination in her home country and in Mexico.
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 Law Center — render her a priority for detention under President Obama’s recent announcement of executive action surrounding immigration.
For nearly three months, Hernández-Polanco has faced abuse and sexual assault at the hands of fellow detainees and ICE staff while she awaits a hearing in her asylum case, she said in a statement to her attorneys. She described how male ICE guards pat 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 abuse 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 Law Center they have witnessed a female guard refer repeatedly to Hernández-Polanco as “it.” When Hernández-Polanco stood up against this alleged treatment, she was placed in solitary confinement for “insolence.” But her attorneys have argued that asylum-seekers do not present a security threat and have asked that she be released to a local Tucson LGBTQ community group, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, which has been providing ongoing support and is willing to house and care for Hernández-Polanco. ICE has refused the request.
The Transgender Law Center points out that trans women in immigration detention not only face danger from staff, but are particularly vulnerable to sexual abusefrom other detainees in male facilities. 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.
After repeatedly urging ICE to release Hernández-Polanco and immediately address her claims of abuse and negligence, the Law Center is now asking the public to send letters to ICE’s official “public advocate,” Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. A letter template is provided on the petition website.
“What Nicoll is facing at the detention center is part of the larger reality of violence that im/migrant trans women of color face in our society at large,” Isa Noyola, the Transgender Law Center’s program manager, explained in a statement. “Our communities are rallying together demanding her release and an end to immigration detention for all transgender women.”