ICE Closes the Only Transgender Unit in the Nation

Advocates call for immediate release of all trans people in ICE custody in Arizona & the US

January 30, Phoenix, Arizona – On Tuesday, Trans Queer Pueblo received word that ICE is closing the deadly transgender unit at Cibola County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, at least on a temporary basis, and transferring its detainees to other facilities.

The closure is a major victory for the currently and formerly detained migrant trans women who have been leading a grassroots movement to close Cibola, #EndTransDetention and #AbolishICE. The unit’s shutdown follows seven months of pressure on ICE after the #Cibola29, a group of trans women detained at the New Mexican facility, exposed ICE abuses by way of letters they penned clandestinely at great risk to their personal safety.

For years, ICE marketed the “trans pod” at Cibola–the only unit in the country specifically for gay, bisexual, and trans detainees–as a way to “safely” detain trans people. The pod’s closure is a concession that even in such units, ICE is incapable and unwilling to keep trans people safe. Karla Bautista, Liberation Coordinator for Trans Queer Pueblo, said that, “trans migrants will only be safe once ICE releases all trans detainees on humanitarian parole.”

And while Cibola’s trans pod is now closed–at least temporarily–the trans women it housed are still in danger. On Tuesday, ICE transferred 13 of the trans women to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington, where they may be held with cisgender male detainees and the abuses of Cibola are likely to be repeated.

Kendra, a former detainee in Cibola’s trans pod, a signatory of the Cibola29 letter, and a Trans Queer Pueblo member, said of the news, “It made me happy and sad at the same time. Finally, justice has been done. But I hope wherever the girls are transferred, that they don’t suffer like they did in Cibola. If I could send them a message I would say: don’t give up, one day you will be free.”

The trans pod’s closure in New Mexico puts ICE in Arizona on notice for its own abuses of trans detainees. The cases of Alejandra and Anahí, trans women who suffered multiple assaults while detained alongside cisgender men at Eloy Detention Center, were highlighted in a November 2019 press release by the Florence Project. Anahí has since been released; Alejandra remains detained. She is one of 11 trans detainees in Arizona currently receiving Trans Queer Pueblo support.

Trans Queer Pueblo reiterates its call for (1) the full and permanent closure of Cibola Correctional Facility and a detainee-led investigation of abuses at the facility’s trans pod; (2) the immediate release of all trans detainees in Arizona and the nation; and (3) the abolition of ICE.

Trans Queer Pueblo is a base-building racial and gender justice organization that is collectively governed by a growing membership of 300+ trans and queer undocumented and documented migrants and people of color in Phoenix. We organize to transform our city toward community autonomy, self-determination, and liberation. Follow us at FB/transqueerpueblo and IG/tqpueblo

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