A 23-year old transgender woman from Mexico, Victoria died in 2007 of AIDS-related meningitis following eight nightmarish weeks of neglect in immigration detention. Even as Victoria lay dying, her severely swollen ankle shackled to a hospital bed, two immigration officers stood passively outside her room.
A mere eight weeks prior to this grisly scene, Victoria was living happily and healthily among loved ones in her California home. Following a minor traffic infraction, Immigration authorities detained Victoria and ignored her repeated requests for the life-sustaining HIV medication she took daily. As her paralyzing pain, dangerously high fever, and debilitating weakness grew increasingly grave, Victoria pleaded again for medical attention.
“Oh, Victoria — you again?” detention staff replied dismissively. “You just need to take some Tylenol and to drink lots of water.”
Today, let us remember Victoria’s story as an example of extraordinary resistance in the face of callous indifference. In an act of collective defiance, the eighty-odd detainees in Victoria’s residential unit refused to line up for their nightly roll call, instead chanting “Hospital! Hospital! Hospital!” until detention staff relented and brought her to a local hospital.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, Immigration Equality honors the many transgender asylum-seekers like Victoria Arellano who continue to contact us in despair from immigration detention. In addition to inadequate medical care, our transgender clients often endure inhumane conditions at detention facilities that are ill-equipped to house transgender detainees. As Immigration Equality’s detention staff attorney, I have met transgender detainees who report months of agonizing twenty-three hour days in solitary confinement, as well as “protective custody units,” where they are housed alongside mentally ill detainees and accused sex offenders. Even as Immigration Equality successfully secured those clients’ release, much work remains in protecting the rights of the many unrepresented transgender individuals who continue to languish in detention.
Today, Immigration Equality salutes all our transgender brothers and sisters both in and out of detention, as well as all those who have lost their lives violently to gender identity-based persecution. We remember.