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Alejandra is free! Trans asylum seeker out of ICE detention after 20 months

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Bamby Salcedo could hardly contain her joy! Alejandra Barrera, who fled violence in El Salvador and faced deportation after 20 months in Cibola County Correctional Center, ICE’s for-profit contracted detention center in Milan, New Mexico, was freed on parole late Friday night, Sept. 6. The release in the dark of night came after an intense and sustained campaign by her attorney Rebekah Wolf from Equal Justice Works, Salcedo’s [email protected] Coalition and Amnesty International, as well as engaged members of Congress and ordinary citizens to the #FreeAlejandra!

“My heart is so full of joy because it’s just amazing that the efforts of so many different people participated in making sure that she come home. There was no reason why she was being denied the opportunity to fight her case on the outside,” Salcedo said in a video posted on the [email protected] Coalition Facebook page. Salcedo thanked everyone who participated in the successful but arduous #FreeAlejandra campaign.

“It was because of all of your calls, because of all of you signing petitions, showing up to the rallies, showing up the press conferences, her lawyers – everyone – all of you who wrote letters to Alejandra, everyone who participated in la campaigna de #FreeAlejandra – should be very proud because this is one more victory and we should be able to celebrate,” Salcedo said.

Alejandra was released into the care of her [email protected] Coalition sponsor Alma Rose to fight her asylum case outside of the prison-like facility. Rose put her name and house as a “down payment” to get Alejandra out of detention, says Salcedo.

Just three days earlier, Salcedo was still pleading Alejandra’s case via Facebook.

“30,000 signatures, 75+ organizations supporting, letters from Congress sent, and ICE IS STILL HOLDING ALEJANDRA IN DETENTION! But we are not giving up. Alejandra’s case represents the mistreatment of all trans women while in ICE custody, it is clear that ICE only intends to harm us! We have filed a habeas corpus for Alejandra, what is a legal process that reports her unlawful detention for almost 2 years, brings her case to the court, and calls for her release on the basis of prolonged detention

 

Starting tomorrow, we need your help putting Congressional pressure on ICE one more time. And next week we will be targeting ICE directly, the clock is ticking! If you have not taken action at all in the last year, now’s your chance! Check our page tomorrow for instructions and call scripts.”

June 14, 2019 Congressional letter to ICE

Last July, The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus saying Alejandra’s prolonged detention “violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process protections against indefinite detention. Ms. Barrera, an arriving asylum seeker, has requested parole a total of five times since her arrival in the United States in November 2017, but has never had the opportunity to appear before a judge to determine whether her detention is justified,” NIJC said in a press release.

“Alejandra’s detention for over 19 months highlights the difficulty asylum seekers face in getting released from detention, particularly where their only chance of release rests solely on ICE’s discretion,” said NIJC Senior Attorney Tania Linares Garcia. “The women of the Cibola transgender ward have written letters attesting to the lack of food, medical care and other basic needs. Alejandra has been held in these conditions without an opportunity to have a judge determine whether her detention is justified.”

The power ICE wields is frightening. ICE denied Alejandra’s release “even after the government conceded that her asylum case should receive further review by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and after the Tenth Circuit granted a stay of removal in her case finding that she is likely to succeed on the merits of her appeal.”

Alejandra’s federal lawsuit is supported by numerous members of Congress as organizations and her attorneys challenge ICE’s professional conduct handling both her asylum and parole requests.

“Amnesty International has grave concerns about ICE’s conduct in its handling of Alejandra’s parole requests,” said Alli Jarrar, North America campaigner for Amnesty International, as well as ICE failing to address Alejandra’s various progressive medical issues.

The National Immigrant Justice Center also noted that some of the trans women in the ICE detention center sent open letters to NIJC and other advocates “decrying inhumane conditions and medical neglect they have suffered.”

Alejandra, friend and attorney Rebekah Wolf at release Sept. 6, 2019

“ICE is acting with total impunity in this country right now,” Wolf told the Los Angeles Blade last April, describing the byzantine, Catch 22 twists and turns Alejandra’s case has taken, leading to deep depression. “Even falsified documents — it feels like spitting into the wind. And then I talked her this morning, and she’s like, ‘One last battle. One last battle.’ So that’s what we’re on.”

But Alejandra, 44, was an activist, educator and a campaigner for trans and LGBT communities and for people with HIV in El Salvador, Wolf says. She also lived through the El Salvadoran civil war (1979-1992) and “had been targeted a number of different times by the El Salvadoran military at checkpoints who terribly abused her.”

Alejandra escaped with her trans niece, Zulay, fleeing through Mexico, where she endured threats and abuse from gangs, which she attempted to report. They arrived at the U.S. border in November of 2017, entered legally through a Port of Entry, but they were detained immediately and transferred to Cibola, some of the first trans women detained there.

Alejandra should have been released after maximum two months of detention. “She got a positive, credible fear determination,” Wolf said. “We requested parole five times. In the beginning they just told her there is no parole. So, she and Zulay both have their hearings and Zulay was granted asylum and has been out now for a year. Alejandra was denied.”

And denied and denied. Alejandra’s release on parole enables her to gather better evidence and better plan for her next asylum hearing. She heads to the ICE office on Monday to get parole instructions, Salcedo says. But other than ensuring her medical anther basic needs are taken care of, the #FreeAlejandra coalition has yet to strategize about their next steps.

Alejandra and friends

“This is not the last time we’re going to hear from Alejandra,” her sponsor Alma Rose, the [email protected] Coalition’s rapid response coordinator inside immigration detention facilities, says on her Facebook video of Alejandra’s release. “She is free tonight – an historic night.”

“Alejandra was an organizer and activist in her country. Her life was in danger,” Salcedo says. “We know she has so much potential. She’s already outspoken for people’s rights in the fight for social justice.”

Alejandra’s release, Salcedo says, “is an example of solidarity work – of when people come together, when people fight for what is right – and the fight for justice wins. This is one example of a victory we can all savor.”

 

 

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Justice Dept. seeks Supreme Court review on Texas abortion ban

“Women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution”

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U.S. Supreme Court (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Justice Department lawyers filed an emergency appeal Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined a lower court ruling that blocked enforcement of the Texas anti-abortion law.

The Justice Department is seeking the high court’s review in order to block the law while legal litigation continues over the controversial law that bans abortion after six weeks, a point at which many women are unaware they are pregnant.

The Biden administration wants to block the law’s enforcement while a lower Federal court in Austin, Texas, addresses the underlying constitutional questions raised in the challenge to the law.

Last week in a late night filing the Justice Department petitioned the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse its ruling that allows the controversial Texas abortion ban law known as SB8 temporarily reinstated.

In its brief Justice Department attorneys argued that if the law is upheld, states could violate any right provided they left enforcement up to private citizens and not the state itself. “If Texas’s scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind,” the Justice Department stated then added, “A stay would prolong [the law’s] substantial harm to the United States’ sovereign interests and would disserve the public interest.”

In a late Friday evening ruling two weeks ago, a three Judge panel of the U. S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily overturned an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman that had blocked Senate Bill 8, the Texas abortion ban, from being enforced.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit released a one-paragraph order last Thursday allowing the law to remain in effect after the appeal by the Justice Department.

In its appeal the lawyers for the Justice Department argued that the law “is plainly unconstitutional under this court’s precedents […] And Texas’s insistence that no party can bring a suit challenging S.B. 8 amounts to an assertion that the federal courts are powerless to halt the state’s ongoing nullification of federal law. That proposition is as breathtaking as it is dangerous.”

Because the case was filed on the high court’s emergency docket, the justices are likely to move swiftly legal experts say – possibly within a matter of days – to take it up. 

Writing in his 113 page order, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman, who blocked enforcement of S.B. 8 labeled the law an “offensive deprivation of such an important right” referring to women’s reproductive rights then added;

“A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established,” Pitman wrote. “Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, (Texas) contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that.”

Pitman also took aim at the provisions in the law that allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or those who aid and abet procedures that violate the law. Successful litigants can collect $10,000 under the law’s provisions.

“The State created a private cause of action by which individuals with no personal interest in, or connection to, a person seeking an abortion would be incentivized to use the state’s judicial system, judges, and court officials to interfere with the right to an abortion,” he wrote.

Pitman then called out the Republican lawmakers who drafted the measure: “There can be no doubt that S.B. 8 was a deliberate attempt by lawmakers, notably its author, State Senator Bryan Hughes, to “find another way” around resistance to enforcement of laws criminalizing abortion.”

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Federal Government

Dr. Rachel Levine first Trans Admiral in U.S. Commissioned Officer Corps

“This is a momentous occasion & I am pleased to take this role for the impact I can make, and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes”

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Dr. Rachel Levine sworn in by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy (Photo Credit: U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services)

WASHINGTON – The nation’s eight uniformed services added the first ever openly Transgender four-star flag officer Tuesday as Dr. Rachel Levine, who serves as the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health and head of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, was ceremonially sworn in as the highest ranking official in the USPHS Commissioned Corps.

For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

The Admiral will lead 6,000 Public Health Service officers estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services.

The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.” Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday within the U.S. Public Health Service.

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Admiral Dr. Rachel Levine (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service:

“Admiral Levine’s historic appointment as the first openly transgender four-star officer is a giant step forward towards equality as a nation.  This is a proud moment for us at HHS. Admiral Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

“I’m so grateful to work alongside a kind, principled leader like Admiral Levine, and it is my honor to celebrate her historic appointment as the first female four-star officer to serve in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps and as the first openly transgender four-star officer to serve in any of the uniformed services. Her appointment represents an important step towards a more inclusive future, and her service will undoubtedly advance the USPHS Commissioned Corps’ mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation.” remarked the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy.

Levine, before being nominated by President Joe Biden and then confirmed by the Senate for her current role earlier this year, had previously served as the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, had been confirmed previously by the state’s Republican-controlled senate to serve as Secretary of Health and the state’s physician general.

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Texas

Texas lawmakers approve anti-Trans youth sports bill & send to Governor

Anti-transgender extremists made it their mission to attack children, spread misinformation and stoke fear to advance their twisted agendas

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Trans activists, allies, parents, and youth protest at Texas capitol (Photo Courtesy of the ACLU)

AUSTIN – Texas lawmakers gave final approval Sunday afternoon to Texas House Bill 25, the controversial measure that would require the state’s K-12 students to solely compete on sports teams that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate that was assigned at birth and negates birth certificates that have modified gender markers.

“This cruel and grotesque ban puts a target on the backs of transgender children and adults, erases intersex people and sends a clear message that transgender and intersex people aren’t welcome or safe in Texas. Instead of heeding the community outcry against the bill and listening to the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, Texas lawmakers willingly ignored the unequivocal evidence of the harm this bill (and bills like it) has already caused,” Ricardo Martinez, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Texas, said in an emailed statement.

“Anti-transgender extremists have made it their mission to attack children, spread misinformation and stoke fear in order to advance their own political careers and twisted agendas. This is shameful. This law will deprive transgender and intersex kids of their basic rights and opportunities to play with their friends, get exercise and learn life lessons through sports,” Martinez added.

Last week, Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-Trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Then on Friday the state Senate voted 19-12, and later the House voted to concur after accepting Senate amendments to the legislation in a 76-61 vote Sunday afternoon. The Texas Tribune reported that the Senate floor vote followed a swiftly held committee meeting where a 24-hour notice rule was suspended and the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to advance the legislation.

“Make no mistake: this bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of “male” or “female.” To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care, and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Blade.

The bill now heads to Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s desk where he is expected to sign the measure this week.

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