Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Twitter users on a highly curated virtual tour of its detention center for transgender women in New Mexico using photos taken during a recent media tour. The tweets, posted in a thread on June 13, spoke of giving detainees the "best" medical care possible, and the photos showed inmates reading, playing basketball, gardening, and getting their hair done together at the in-house salon -- altogether painting a very different picture than the one seen in reports of trans Salvadoran asylum seeker Johana Medina's death at a different ICE detention center in New Mexico less than two weeks prior.
Many people suspected propaganda, and their suspicions appear to have been confirmed. Nearly 30 of the trans and nonbinary migrants detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan have spoken out against the narrative those images attempted to tell viewers, and against their treatment in ICE custody more broadly. In a letter to Trans Queer Pueblo, a grassroots group in Phoenix working towards the liberation of LGBTQ+ migrants of color, that was published by the Phoenix New Times on Friday, inmates report neglect, abuse, and daily physical risk.
"NO SOMOS DELINCUENTES," the 29 signed detainees write. "SOMOS SERES HUMANOS, QUE TENEMOS DERECHOS COMO CUALQUIER INDIVIDUO."
"WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS, WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS, WHO HAVE RIGHTS LIKE ANY INDIVIDUAL," translates New Times editorial fellow Hannah Critchfield.
The letter writers say that Cibola medical staff routinely fail to provide adequate health care to people with disabilities and people living with HIV, sometimes even denying life-saving medications -- an allegation that brings to mind Roxsana Hernandez, a trans asylum seeker from Honduras who died of HIV-related complications and dehydration in ICE custody after being detained in Cibola for less than a month. Elsewhere in the letter, its authors claim that they deal with verbal and psychological mistreatment from ICE officers on a daily basis, and that they are too afraid of retaliation to say anything about it to Cibola staff. One inmate even told Karla Bautista, Trans Queer Pueblo's coordinator of liberation, that officers threatened to withhold food if they didn't pose for the media tour pictures that were later tweeted by @ICEgov in June.
"This is the lie of 'safe' LGBT pods," Dagoberto Bailon, Trans Queer Pueblo's general assistant, told the New Times. "This is ICE's strategy -- to make sure that LGBT people are as far away from the support of migrant organizations as possible."