A Phoenix-based advocacy group says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday released five LGBTQ asylum seekers who had been in ICE custody at two Arizona detention centers.
Trans Queer Pueblo, which advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants, in a press release said the detainees had been isolated “for medical reasons” at La Palma Correctional Facility and Eloy Detention Center.
CoreCivic, a private company that was once known as the Corrections Corporation of America, operates both detention centers that are roughly an hour southeast of Phoenix.
Trans Queer Pueblo said the five detainees that ICE released on humanitarian parole are transgender women, a lesbian woman and a gay man from El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba and Venezuela who asked for asylum in the U.S. Trans Queer Pueblo said two of them are living with HIV, and all of those who ICE released have “compromised immune systems.”
The press release says ICE brought the asylum seekers to a Greyhound bus station in downtown Phoenix. Trans Queer Pueblo said LGBTQ activists greeted them once they arrived and helped them purchase bus tickets that allowed them to travel to Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Texas and reunite with relatives.
An ICE spokesperson has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about the asylum seekers’ release.
Immigration Equality earlier this week demanded ICE release detainees with HIV who are at increased risk for coronavirus. Trans Queer Pueblo and the National Center for Transgender Equality are among the myriad other groups that have also called upon ICE to release all detainees as the disease rapidly spreads across the country.
An ICE detainee at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey has tested positive for coronavirus. An ICE staffer who works at the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, which is also in New Jersey, also has coronavirus.
ICE on its website also notes there are 19 confirmed coronavirus cases “among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.”
An ICE spokesperson with whom the Blade has previously spoken says the agency continues to take precautions to protect detainees and staff from coronavirus. These include the suspension of social visitation at all ICE detention centers and a requirement that lawyers, lawmakers and/or members of their staff wear disposable gloves, masks and eye protection when they enter these facilities.
“The releases show that ICE is panicking,” said Trans Queer Pueblo Liberation Coordinator Karla Bautista Chonay in their organization’s press release, referring to the five LGBTQ asylum seekers’ release. “They’ve given such negligent medical care to migrants in detention for so long that they literally don’t have the infrastructure to keep them safe from COVID-19. But one-by-one releases won’t work.”
“ICE needs to release all detainees in Arizona, now, starting with folks who are LGBTQ+ and have chronic conditions,” they added.