Trans woman freed from ‘hellish’ ICE detention after thousands of allies demanded her freedom

Trans woman freed from ICE detention thanks supporters

A 41-year-old trans woman freed after two years in ICE detention has thanked thousands of supporters who wrote letters demanding her release.

Maura, a US resident originally from Nicaragua, was held in ICE detention for more than 800 days at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California, a facility accused of medical neglect and failing to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

There she was subject to abuse and the facility failed to provide adequate medical care.

She thought she was alone, telling the Guardian in June that despite an initial wave of hope after Joe Biden became president, “those of us still detained have been forgotten”.

“The few friends I had are no longer answering my calls,” she said. “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.”

But now, after a coalition including Amnesty International, American Friends Service Committee Colorado, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the TransLatin@ Coalition organised a letter-writing campaign that saw more than 14,000 people write to ICE demanding Maura’s case be reviewed, she has been released.

“I thought I was alone in this world. I thought it wasn’t worth it to keep fighting,” Maura said following her release, according to an Amnesty statement.

“And then I realised that there were people around the world, who I didn’t even know, very good people who have been very supportive. They supported me by sending me letters, they gave me moral support. I am very happy for all that, very grateful.”

She added: “I am so, so happy. I still can’t believe it. I thought I wasn’t going to get out of that place, I thought I wasn’t going to get out of that hell. It was very difficult, very traumatic, very horrible.”

Maura has been a lawful permanent resident in the US for more than 25 years, going to high school in San Diego and working in the food-service industry. She is now seeking humanitarian protection to remain in the US as she fears for her life if returned to Nicaragua.

“Maura has finally been able to reunite with her friends and loved ones in freedom and join her sponsors — individuals who support community-based solutions over detention — in California as she continues to pursue her right to seek humanitarian protection to stay in the United States,” said Denise Bell, the researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA.

“While we celebrate Maura’s freedom and resilience, the work is not done until all trans people are released from ICE custody and the detention of trans people ends once and for all.”