Attorneys: Honduran transgender migrant unlawfully detained

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A Honduran transgender migrant who was granted asylum last fall has been unlawfully held — at times in solitary confinement — at an immigration detention center while her case is appealed, attorneys for the woman said Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the National Immigrant Justice Center charged in a federal court filing that Nicole Garcia Aguilar, 24, is being held at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, despite her asylum application being granted in October by a federal immigration judge.

Government lawyers appealed the initial asylum ruling over arguments about the credibility of Garcia Aguilar’s claims that she had been persecuted, raped and threatened because of her gender identity and that she would continue to suffer if returned to Honduras.

The filing by the advocacy groups also states that Garcia Aguilar remains in custody despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that people who have been granted asylum generally merit release pending appeal.

Garcia Aguilar filed her most recent request for release March 15. Immigration authorities denied that request the following week, prompting the legal challenge by the advocacy groups.

“Not only is ICE detaining our client illegally, they are doing so in conditions that are harmful and dangerous,” said Tania Linares Garcia, a staff attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Immigration authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The attorneys are asking the court to either grant Garcia Aguilar’s immediate release or schedule a bond hearing, where federal prosecutors would have to provide evidence that her ongoing detention is justified based on whether she’s a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Garcia Aguilar was among a wave of Central American migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in early 2018. Court documents state she asked for asylum after arriving at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona, and has been in custody since.

Her attorneys say she has been convicted of marijuana possession and is facing prostitution charges but that her criminal history involves no violence.

During her time at the privately-run prison in New Mexico, Garcia Aguilar was moved from the facility’s transgender unit to solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. Immigration officials had said the time she was kept alone was for her protection, according to the court filing.

Her attorneys also argued that her chronic struggle with anxiety, depression, nightmares and panic attacks were exacerbated by the time spent in solitary confinement.