A group of transgender women detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were recently transferred to New Mexico from a detention center in California.
In a detention center in Milan, the women are housed in a pod together.
ICE transferred the dozen or so women in early May to Cibola County Detention Center in Milan from a similar facility in Santa Ana, California, where ICE made its first dedicated transgender module. Since then, advocacy organizations for immigrants and transgender rights in New Mexico have taken notice.
Adrian Lawyer, co-director of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, said his organization reached out to the detainees and recently toured the Cibola County facility. But, he said, no one in the organization has talked to the women yet. Lawyer said he and others are in the process of setting up a peer support group for the women and are planning for volunteers to go to the detention center two to three times a week.
“We still are kind of at the outset of this,” Lawyer said. “We don’t know if and how or when we get to go in. We can’t predict what’s going to happen.”
The transgender detainees are in a pod setting together, separated from others. People are typically housed by gender in immigration detention facilities. They have room to walk around and interact with each other, Lawyer said, and appear to have “dedicated resources.”
A spokeswoman for ICE did not respond to questions about the transfer and the housing to NM Political Report before press time.
Until last fall, the Cibola County Detention Center operated under the U.S. Department of Justice as a privately managed prison by CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. In October, the DOJ ended contracts with private prisons in the final weeks of Barack Obama’s administration. Yet that same month, ICE requested to reopen the private correctional center and make it a facility for immigrant detentions.
The newly rebranded CoreCivic, which still operates Cibola County Detention Center, came under scrutiny for the deaths of two inmates in Milan, as well as 12 deaths in other prisons between 2007 and 2017.
“That facility has such an awful management reputation under [CoreCivic],” American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico spokesman Micah McCoy said.
McCoy said he wasn’t sure about the detention center’s current conditions, though others interviewed for this article said they seemed amenable.
The ACLU has also been unsuccessful in reaching the transgender women detainees, McCoy added.
The New Mexico Center on Immigrant Law Center, however, has been in contact with the women, due to their regular legal orientation presentations to immigrants being held at the detention center.
Attorneys from California appear to be representing the women, said Alejandro Macias, a paralegal with the Immigrant Law Center.
The transgender women represent just a fraction of the overall detainees at Cibola County, where roughly 200-250 people are currently detained, according to Macias. The number peaked at nearly 600 detainees in March. But since then, detainees have been likely transferred to other facilities around the state and region. In New Mexico, ICE also contracts with immigrant detention facilities in Otero County and Torrence.
The Santa Ana facility in California transferred its entire populations of detainees as its contract with ICE was set to expire at the end of May.