As President Joe Biden publicly declares support for trans rights—and directly acknowledges the need for trans protections in schools, prisons, and within the healthcare system—Maura Martinez, a trans woman from Nicaragua, has been in ICE custody for two years for the crime of defending herself against an attacker and not being born in the U.S.
She is one of the dozens, if not more, of trans immigrants being misgendered in the system, subsequently facing sexual assault, physical harassment, and months of solitary confinement as their only recourse for “protection,” from relentless abuse. Per the Guardian:
“In June 2019, Martinez said she and another trans woman were beaten by male detainees – and then placed in segregation for two weeks, allegedly for their own safety: ‘That was not the type of protection I needed, and I felt really scared.’”
And now, Martinez, who has been in America since she was 15 after fleeing abuse in Nicaragua, says she is not even sure whom of her loved ones on the outside authorities could even contact if something were to happen to her in detention:
“Martinez said she had been in detention so long that she had lost contact with anyone outside of the facility, and rarely had money to buy commissary food items. “The few friends I had are no longer answering my calls.” In the new unit where she was recently transferred, she said she ended up in a cell by herself, which has escalated her anxieties: ‘My fear is that if I’m by myself and someone does something to me, no one will know what happened. I don’t want to be alone.’”
Martinez says she was prosecuted after a man and his dog attacked her as she was looking for blankets in the trash. She says she threw rocks “in his direction” to defend herself. She was then prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon and placed in detention despite the fact that she was a lawful permanent resident. After a probation violation negated her plea deal, Martinez served prison time and then was handed over to ICE upon her release, where she has remained in custody ever since, all for the crime of throwing a rock.
Martinez’s story is all too familiar for those who came to America looking for a better life but instead face imprisonment. Though her attorneys asked for asylum last year, an immigration judge ruled her crime too serious for release. Attorneys then asked that she be released while her case was ongoing, though that request was also denied. Martinez is far from the only victim of an intentionally cruel system; activists have recently met with the DHS to demand the release of all trans people in ICE custody. However, even though many had hoped the current administration could offer some glimmer of hope to an already vulnerable population made even more vulnerable by America’s unconscionable cruelty to migrant humans, that hope seems to be fading:
“Martinez said she was initially hopeful that things could change under Biden when she heard news about the executive orders he was targeting in his first 100 days: “But those of us still detained have been forgotten.” And she can’t imagine returning to Nicaragua where she has no family: ‘It would mean death to me.’”