Those of you who haven't been around PUENTE ARIZONA these past few years have missed a real evolution. I neglect to write about them precisely because they're doing such an incredible job confronting the criminalization of decent people and the brutality of detention and deportation. PUENTE and their allies in the migrant justice movement have deployed a diversity of tactics against the system: helping families fight the detention and deportation of loved ones; documenting human rights abuses; engaging in civil disobedience by locking down to deportation busses and prison gates; and waging simultaneous hunger strikes on both sides of the prison walls , for example. The
movement to resist the prison industrial complex's death grip on
immigrant families and communities in this region is so
well organized that it just hasn't necessarily been a voice I thought
needed my help in particular to amplify or echo - they speak well enough for themselves, that is.
Among other things, PUENTE has organized a youth media collective which has been documenting the struggles of migrant families torn apart by raids, detentions, and deportations. They produce incredible protest art through their collective, PUENTE INK. Their community room has a wall full of books banned from Arizona's public schools when Attorney General Tom Horne was State Superintendant, and convinced the legislature to put an end to classes and curriculum that he believed taught youth of color "to hate white people" - it's Arizona's Underground Library. There's so much happening at the place and in the community that is PUENTE - check them out yourselves. Swing by ICE on Central (just north of McDowell) where the hunger strikers are camping out - they'll tell you what it's all about.
I bring up PUENTE's work as I'm posting this article because it's been my observation that a number of undocumented LGBTQ young people are not just marginalized victims, as one may infer from below, but are respected leaders in the local migrant justice movement- many even risking detention and deportation in their efforts to liberate us all from this abusive system. Thus, the narrative of resistance to brutality in Arizona is also not one that can be written without them.
PUENTE human rights Activist Chela Chelinski
Mural by Amelec Diaz (Phoenix ICE Rally, 2012)
Sunday, 16 February 2014 00:00
By Erika L. Sánchez,
Truthout | News Analysis
Undocumented LGBTQ people are caught in a double bind of
belonging neither in white mainstream LGBTQ narrative nor in the
mainstream immigrant narrative. The consequences can range from
difficult to deadly.
On Halloween of 2011, Eddy (who, for his personal safety prefers his
last name not be disclosed), an undocumented immigrant from Chiapas,
Mexico, living in Texas, was stopped by a police officer for passing a
yellow light. Eddy, who has lived in the United States for most of his
life, never imagined he would be in custody for 61 days because of a
routine traffic stop.
Eddy says that he passed the sobriety test. But when he was asked for
his license, he could not provide one because he was undocumented. When
they reached the headquarters, he also demanded a blood test to further
prove he was not driving under the influence.
After his arrest, Eddy says he was transferred to Harris County Jail,
where he was held for 45 days. He was then taken to an immigration
detention center in Houston. During the intake process, he says one of
the questions was "Are you gay?" Because he answered yes, he says he was
put in isolation for one week. The detention officials claimed it was
for his own safety.
Other people were placed in solitary confinement because of
aggressive acts or because they wanted to commit suicide. Eddy was
placed there only because he was gay. "I think they put me there out of
fear. That was unjustified," Eddy says. "It was the hardest moment of my
life. I thought I was really going to go insane."
After his attorney contacted the warden, Eddy says that they removed
him from isolation, and the warden warned him against having sex with
anyone. According to Eddy, the warden said to him: "If you do get in
trouble, we can't guarantee that we're going to protect you."
He remained in general population for three weeks until his blood
tests came back and cleared him of driving under the influence. At that
point, he was released on bail.
Eddy's experience, unfortunately, is not unusual. A 2013 report by American Progress
found that many facilities place lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and
queer (LGBTQ) immigrants in administrative segregation, or solitary
confinement, supposedly in response to concerns of sexual assault and
harassment. LGBTQ immigrants held in immigration detention facilities
are 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their
According to the report
solitary confinement can lead to a variety of psychological problems,
including hyper-sensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, panic
attacks, obsessive thoughts and paranoia.
Clement Lee, an attorney at the Immigration Equality Center
provides representation for LGBTQ asylum seekers, says that in some
extreme cases, trans women are placed in solitary confinement for months
at a time.
"Many detention centers don't know how to house trans people. They
almost always segregate them according to gender assignment given at
birth," Lee says. "Many of our transgender women [housed in men’s
prisons] face increased danger of sexual violence from both staff and
detainees." Lee says that the detention centers address these problems
by putting people in administrative isolation.
These hostile environments can lead to depression and other emotional issues. In 2011, Jonathan Perez, co-founder of Immigrant Youth Coalition
, decided to be purposefully detained
to highlight the injustice of the Secure Communities Program
While in a detention center in Louisiana, he says he witnessed some of
the more "feminine" men being harassed by fellow detainees. Perez says
this experience caused him to become depressed and stay in bed all day.
"I didn't want to face it," he says. "Whether we realize it or not, we
experience out oppression all the time. In general, I think it's scary
because you don't know what you're going to face in these places. It's
inhumane to be detained."
In addition to harassment and isolation, another obstacle many
LGBTQ-identified detainees face is lack of access to HIV medication. The National Immigrant Justice Center
has found that HIV-positive individuals detained by Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) were harassed and mistreated and had a
difficult time accessing HIV medication.
Lee says that sometimes people who have HIV hesitate to disclose it
out of fear, which can lead to a lapse in medication. These lapses can
be deadly. In 2007, Victoria Arellano
a Mexican HIV-positive transgender woman, died after being denied her
medication and medical attention at the detention center in San Pedro,
Some trans detainees are also not allowed to receive hormone therapy
while in custody, particularly when they don't have a previous
prescription. Immigration Equality has found that medical staffs at
detention facilities don't screen for or evaluate the need for
transition-related care. According to the group's web site
"Due to the increased stressors that detainees live under, even if an
individual did not take hormones or struggled with their GID [Gender
Identity Disorder] before entering detention, their experience in
detention may lead them to experience more intense feelings of gender
discordance and necessitate treatment."
"Hormones are integral to expressing their gender identity, and that's something they should be able to receive," Lee says.
Rachel Ann Lewis, assistant professor in the Women and Gender Studies
Program at George Mason University, says that when it comes to asylum
petitions based on LGBTQ identity, there is a real emphasis on visible
performance of sexuality, which can also be dangerous while in
detention. Many have to make the difficult choice to "perform" their
gender identity or sexuality for their petition for asylum and risk
being harassed in detention.
Collecting evidence of their membership to particular group can be
dangerous and difficult for some LGBTQ detainees, Lee adds. Many
asylum-seekers, for instance, lack evidence because they've made efforts
to conceal their sexuality out of fear of persecution in their home
In addition to the danger faced in detention centers, Lewis points
out that asylum seekers cannot work, which forces many to be homeless.
As a result, Lee says, many have to resort to criminalized conduct, such
as shoplifting and sex work, to survive.
Lulú Martinez, who immigrated from Mexico City at the age of 3, also infiltrated a detention center
as an act of civil disobedience. She says that queer undocumented
people there are caught in a double bind of belonging neither in white
mainstream queer narrative nor in the mainstream immigrant narrative.
When it comes to immigration reform, she believes legislators should be
"acknowledging a broader language that allows for more inclusion."
While immigration reform hangs in the balance, the issue of detention
abuse is just as relevant as ever and LGBTQ activists must continue to
fight for visibility. According to The Center for American Progress
the Department of Homeland Security currently holds more than twice as
many immigrants in detention each day as INS did during the entirety of
Marcela Espinoza, an undocumented lesbian woman who participated in Dream 30
, fled her home in Michoacán
and petitioned for asylum in October 2013. She was detained in El Paso.
She is requesting asylum due to "credible fear" because of her
sexuality and the violence she witnessed in her home state.
"Sometimes we don't have visibility in these spaces," she says.
"There's always a heteronormative way of talking about immigration," she
says. "We need that visibility. We need to be talking about these
things. That's what we're trying to expose.