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Stalag Cibola: The Hell that awaits transgender asylum seekers

Luz, a transgender asylum seeker from Honduras displays her scars

Luz, a transgender asylum seeker from Honduras presented herself to the CBP at the United States border as an asylum seeker fleeing political persecution. She left her home in Honduras armed only with hope, her body scarred from being beaten, shot and imprisoned, all for the crime of being trans in Honduras.

Upon entering the US legally she was immediately imprisoned and subjected to many of the same horrors that she thought that she had just escaped.

New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center’s “Trans Pod” is a nightmare, part of a strategy instituted by the Trump administration to deter trans asylum seekers.

“Stalag Cibola” a name that will live in infamy

Transgender woman Rebecca Kling was arrested alongside 17 other Jewish activists in Washington, D.C., as part of a protest against the U.S. government’s detention and abuse of immigrants. She wrote in the Advocate that she was there in remembrance of the two transgender women who have died while in custody and as a grim reminder that we really don’t know what atrocities we are capable of.


“To be clear, I am not claiming that what the United States is doing is equivalent to the death camps operated by Nazi Germany until their defeat in 1945. On the other hand, the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, opened in 1933 to house political prisoners. No German in 1933 could have possibly foreseen how Dachau, and similar camps across Nazi-controlled Europe, would ultimately result in the murder of millions of people. No American in 2019 can truly predict what horrors we might be capable of, and I’m scared that the United States is on a road that, step by incremental step, leads to unspeakable and inhuman atrocities on a massive scale.”

Two transgender Latina asylum seekers, Johana “Joa” Medina, and Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez died or were murdered by DHS-HHS and ICE while in their custody or shortly thereafter.

Most barely survive.

Alejandra was one of the ‘fortunate’ ones lived despite being deprived of proper nutrition, medical care, and HIV medication.

Others have been murdered by the people they told CBP about after being returned to their countries

Camila Díaz Córdova murdered by police after being denied asylum

29 transgender detainees at Cibola wrote a letter published June 2019 by the AZ Mirror decrying the inhumane conditions at the jail saying “We are not criminals, we are human beings with rights like any individual.”

The 29 transgender women described not being able to access HIV medications and lack of medical care, inaccessibility of legal help, poor food all exacerbated by transphobic guards.

Video by Sylvia Johnson

First appearing in The Atlantic

The Horrors of ICE’s ‘Trans Pod’

“I decided to come to the U.S. to save my life,” says Luz, a transgender asylum seeker, in Sylvia Johnson’s short documentary Luz’s Story. In Honduras, Luz was shot multiple times by alleged gang members who targeted her for her trans identity. She barely emerged with her life. As soon as she was released from the hospital, she was transferred to a Honduran prison on charges of defending her identity. Upon her release 10 months later, after being abused in prison, several gang members again threatened her life.

Luz entered the United States via an official port of entry and asked for protection through political asylum. She was promptly imprisoned. “I had already been imprisoned [in Honduras] and didn’t want to experience another situation like what I had been through,” she says in the film.

Later, Luz would learn that her Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center, had previously been a criminal correctional prison. In October 2016, it was shut down due to inhumane conditions that resulted in several inmate deaths. Shortly thereafter, ICE offered a contract of $30 million a year to the same facility. It reopened in January 2017. Since early 2018, Cibola has incarcerated more than 180 women in its “transgender pod”—the only known ICE-run detention facility for transgender-identifying women. According to Johnson, the incarcerated women, such as Luz, were seeking protection from violence and persecution they had suffered in their home country.

Luz says she spent three excruciating months in Cibola—two of which were in solitary confinement. “It was really, really horrible for me,” she says. “I went into a depression that made me want to hurt myself.”

Johnson, who works part-time at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, told me that the women in the trans pod face extraordinary hardships and obstacles to winning their cases. “While in custody, they face a shocking lack of medical and mental-health services,” she said. “They are put in abusive solitary confinement, they experience high levels of sexual assault, and they face discrimination from the government and the corporation that detains them.” Johnson cited the deaths of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez in 2018 and Johana Medina Leon this year as grave evidence of ICE’s inability to detain trans women safely.

Luz’s Story, a collaboration between Johnson and the photographer Eduardo Montes-Bradley, is just one horrific account of the trauma experienced by many trans asylum seekers.

On June 6th, 2019 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released this dystrophic video portraying nearly idyllic detention conditions touching on all of the areas that are protested by detainees.

The transgender detainees wrote about the staging of the film,

“In recent days, the employees of this unit staged activities that are solely an opposite image of reality,” they said. “They deceived us, coercing us to sign papers that weren’t explained to us and we didn’t know what their true purpose was.”

The House held hearings today offering substantial testimony from officials and advocate in complete contrast to this dystopian fiction published by the government.

The horrific conditions that all of these people are trying to escape were created by Neoliberalism fueled by the United States nationalist’s hatred of leftist ideology.

From this day forward let it be acknowledged that we at Planet Transgender take full responsibility for those actions of past and present administrations and welcome those fleeing to the United States as American citizens fully imbued with the rights and responsibilities of our country.

We owe them that much.

Kelli Busey
Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender


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