Alejandra Barrera is free.
Barrera, a 44-year-old transgender refugee, was released on parole Friday after spending 21 months in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, as the Los Angeles Blade was the first report. She came to the United States in 2017 to escape violence and persecution in El Salvador, where she was beaten, extorted, and sexually assaulted by members of a local gang. She turned herself in at the border along with a niece who fled with her, and the two hoped to be granted asylum.
Barrera’s niece successfully lobbied for an asylum claim, but in November of that year, Barrera was taken to the Cibola Detention Facility in Milan, New Mexico, the only ICE detention center in the U.S. with housing specifically for trans immigrants.
Barrera was denied parole on five separate occasions, which reportedly put her health at severe risk. According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, she “suffers from a progressive medical condition that has gone untreated while she has been detained.”
The advocacy group added, “If left untreated, the illness could permanently affect her cognitive abilities and could cause severe complications and even death.”
Her release on Friday was the result of a months-long campaign by nonprofit organizations and federal lawmakers.
In August, 34 members of Congress sent a letter to ICE calling on the department to “seriously consider the asylum claims of transgender migrants who demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on their ‘membership in a particular social group’ and adhere to its own policies regulating the treatment of transgender detainees.” The petition was signed by House Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), among others.
Earlier this year, the [email protected] Coalition spearheaded a campaign to raise awareness about Barrera’s case. At the time, the organization claimed that Barrera had been in Cibola Detention Facility longer than any other trans detainee.
Bamby Salcedo, the executive director of [email protected] Coalition, said her “heart is so full of joy” now that Barrera is finally out.
“It’s just amazing that the efforts of so many different people participated in making sure that she come home,” Salcedo commented in a video posted to Facebook the day of Barrera’s release. “There was no reason why she was being denied the opportunity to fight her case on the outside.”
The fight is not over, however. Barrera still has to be granted asylum in the U.S. or face deportation back to El Salvador, where she faces continued violence and harassment. Barrera is being represented by Rebekah Wolf of the Equal Justice Coalition, who has been campaigning for her release for months, and the Blade reports that Barrera will stay with a sponsor from the [email protected] Coalition while she seeks refuge.
While Salcedo said supporters of the case “should be very proud because this is one more victory” to celebrate, many trans refugees are still waiting for freedom. As the Los Angeles LGBTQ newspaper’s sister publication, the Washington Blade, reported in February, ICE estimates that at least 111 transgender people are being held in U.S. detention centers. That number was more than double the agency’s self-reported figure from just five months prior and does not include detainees ICE might have missed.
Two transgender women have died in ICE detention centers since May 2018: Johana Medina Leon and Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez.