The ACLU of Massachusetts today announced that 14 transgender asylum seekers who were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico have been released.

The releases follow an effort organized through the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Immigrant Protection Project (IPP); eighteen volunteer lawyers and two local law students in Western Massachusetts last month filed petitions with ICE via a New Mexico legal services organization, demanding the release of 20 transgender women who are seeking asylum and were detained by ICE at the southern U.S. border in May.

“From locking up survivors of persecution, to separating children from their parents, the human impact of the Trump administration’s mass deportation agenda is profound,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “From more than 2,000 miles away, these attorneys showed that court intervention is critically important in the fight for immigrants’ rights.”


The asylum seekers left their native countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and arrived together at the California border at the end of May. ICE detained them there, pending a hearing in immigration court for their release. According to the petitions organized by IPP, the women suffered harm because of their gender identity in their home country, and were found by federal immigration officials to be at serious risk of persecution if they were returned to their home country.

“We kept fighting, and we won,” said Javier Luengo-Garrido, coordinator of the Immigrant Protection Project. "This victory has changed the lives of 14 women, and has energized us to continue fighting for people’s basic human rights.”

“Volunteers, attorneys, students, and our entire community are all a part of this battle,” said Bill Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Massachusetts office. "Together, we will break down these unjust policies and this inhumane system.”

Federal immigration law requires ICE to make an individual determination as to why an immigrant seeking asylum should remain in ICE custody. The Department of Homeland Security and ICE, however, have instituted a policy in five field offices, including one in New Mexico, to detain all asylum seekers, not based on a determination that those persons pose a flight risk or a danger to the community, but rather in order to deter other immigrants from seeking refuge here.

Each petition provided extensive documentation establishing that these women are not a danger to the community, are not a flight risk, and that they will appear for an asylum hearing at immigration court. Each of the women has a sponsor who is able to provide housing, food, and various forms of community support. Sponsors are also able to help the women secure legal representation for their upcoming trials for their political asylum claims.

“This victory illustrates how lawyers around the country can fight detention on the border right from their hometown,” said Megan Kludt, a Northampton-based immigration attorney. "They just need the right kind of organization and technology."

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