Transgender Advocates Launch Hunger Strike to Protest Santa Ana ICE Contract

Activists at the beginning of their hunger strike Monday against the detention of transgender immigrants. From left: Angela Pereira, a supporter of the strikers, and  hunger strikers Deyaneira Garcia, Jorge Gutierrez, and Jennicet Gutierrez, holding the transgender flag.

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Activists at the beginning of their hunger strike Monday against the detention of transgender immigrants. From left: Angela Pereira, a supporter of the strikers, and hunger strikers Deyaneira Garcia, Jorge Gutierrez, and Jennicet Gutierrez, holding the transgender flag.

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Immigration and LGBTQ-rights activists have begun a hunger strike to protest the detention of transgender undocumented immigrants and pressure Santa Ana officials to end their contract to house federal immigration detainees in the city jail.

About 20 people gathered near Santa Ana City Hall Monday morning to condemn the city’s collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – saying it allows city to “profit from the detention of undocumented immigrants, including transgender women” – and help the three hunger strikers set up camp.

Transgender immigration detainee protest

They’re demanding that the City Council cancel the ICE contract, that council members advocate for ICE to release transgender immigrant women nationwide, and that federal immigration authorities end their detention of transgender women.

Transgender women face disproportionately high amounts abuse and rights violations in immigration detention centers, activists say, including an overuse of strip searches by opposite-gender jail staff, denial of medical attention, and harassment and physical abuse by other inmates.

“We can no longer tolerate these kinds of abuse that [Santa Ana officials] know is happening inside these detention centers,” said Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender Latina activist who drew international headlines last year when she interrupted President Obama during a gay pride celebration at the White House.

“I think Santa Ana has an obligation and a responsibility to make the right decision and end the ICE contract now…The abuse cannot continue. Our humanity cannot be questioned any more.” added Gutierrez, who works as an organizer with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

The three initial hunger strikers are Gutiérrez; Jorge Gutierrez, director of the Familia group; and Deyaneira Garcia, a senior at Segerstrom High School.

They plan to camp out at Sasscer Park 24 hours a day indefinitely, with others potentially joining the fasting in the coming days. A series of volunteers are slated to accompany them in shifts. Organizers also plan to post updates on the hunger strike on their Facebook page.

There were 27 transgender immigrant detainees at the Santa Ana jail at last count, according to Hairo Cortes, an advocate with Orange County Immigrant Youth United, which co-organized the event with DeColores Queer OC.

Under pressure from activists and community members, the council showed an interest in February in phasing out the ICE contract, but didn’t set a timetable.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I am, in no way, disputing that this country and our government have done very evil and wrong things. The genocide of Native Americans, slavery, the internment camps…we have much to account for. However, the law still stands and they know full freaking well how to come here legally. Ten thousand refugees fleeing war zones had to wait their turn, and be vetted and cleared. If they can do it, so can those who have a geographical advantage. I am sick to death of the bleating about what happened over two hundred years ago. My ancestors were serf, which is slavery in itself, and suffered from English lords. Does that mean I get to move to England with no papers or legal entrance? No. The law is the law. They need to grow up, put on their big girl panties and STOP BREAKING THE LAW!

  • LFOldTimer

    Joanna, thanks for entering the discussion.

    Just curious….is it your belief that there should be no US borders or immigration laws? Should Americans allow all the poor people of the world to freely enter – then obligate the US taxpayers to fund their medical care, education, and other social needs?

    Can you name just one other civilized nation that supports such a policy?

    Canadians and Europeans are deported back to their countries of origin all the time, particularly if they are convicted of violent felonies on US soil.

    I agree that local jails should not be used to house Federal prisoners. It’s just a money making scam for the locals – which increase the number of highly paid permanent public safety union workers (jail guards who never get layed off) that we must pay for. The Feds should build their own facilities with sufficient capacity to house their own prisoners.

    You need to research California law – “The Trust Act” – which already states that local jailers can’t transfer illegal foreigners to the Feds for deportation unless they’ve committed serious violent felonies. So those convicted of misdemeanors or some felonies (not related to their immigration status) are not being deported according to the letter of the law. So your belief that people are being deported internally based on their immigration status alone is not consistent with California law.

    Those who feel that they are being persecuted in their own nations should protest and fight their own nations to improve conditions for their fellow countrymen, like we’ve done in America. If Americans fled everytime we were persecuted we would’ve never separated from the British.

    • Joanna Clark

      I’m not in total disagreement with you. However, the Sixth amendment to the Constitutions states “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
      speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district
      wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have
      been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and
      cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against
      him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor,
      and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

      Yet, according to PEW Research, in 2013, a record 363,000 (83%) of deportations were carried out
      without appearing before a judge – either through an order issued by an
      enforcement agent (called expedited removal) or by using a previous
      order of deportation (called reinstatement of final orders).

      My argument here is that no evidence, as far as I can determine, has been presented by law enforcement as to the crimes they have alleged committed, other than being here illegally.

      The number of immigrants who have served in our military, defending our country in time of war, are being deported, as well. One veteran was deported after he was unable to attend a hearing, despite
      his reason: he was in the hospital receiving surgery at the time.

      In the meantime our immigration laws remain broken, and despite the efforts of President Obama, the House Republicans refuse to bring the subject up.

  • InTheKnow

    Joanna,
    You need to get your facts straight. These individuals are not in custody for entering the country illegally. They are in custody for committing a crime, generally a felony, while here illegally. Yes, Canadians are locked up and deported. Yes, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans were wrongfully killed, but your 100 million figure is way off. The entire U.S. population today is only somewhere around 360 million.

    • Joanna Clark

      What crime did they commit? I haven’t seen any official documentation of crimes, just allegations. I don’t know if they are here illegally, just allegations that they are. Their only crime that I can see, is that 1) they are Hispanic, and 2) they are transgendered. Neither of those are crimes, however. What happened to our Constitution. they are innocent until proven guilty.This thread IS NOT a court of law.

      • LFOldTimer

        So people are being arrested and convicted for being hispanic and/or transgender, Joanna?

        In which country do you live?

        Those sorts of arguments weaken the position of the activists.

        • Joanna Clark

          I live here, and I worked as a social worker with a gender program for 22 years, after leaving the military, where I served another 22 years of combined active and reserve service, including Vietnam in 68. Police are human beings, just like the rest of us, and some fear anything they don’t understand. Nine out of ten people today believe it is a choice, they can’t begin to grasp the genetics of the issue. And, yes, they have been known to beat up on them, or just generally harass them by calling them names. Twenty-one Trans Women were murdered in 2015.

          I worked for three years with the ACLU on a case. The individual tried to commit suicide, but was found unconscious and taken to the ER. They saved her life, then discovered she had a penis.

          The norm, because of the suicide attempt would be to put her on a 51/50 hold for psychiatric evaluation. Instead, the ER released her.

          Still suicidal, she walked into a bank the next morning and held it up with an empty handgun. She figured when the police arrived, they would shoot her. The police didn’t show up, so she crossed the street and robbed a second bank, then watched as the police drove to the first bank. She then left the scene.

          Later arrested, and tried, she was called a menace to society by the judge and given 15 years on each count, to run concurrently. When told she would be housed with men, she tried suicide again. She was transferred to FCI Springfield, a medical facility, where she was diagnosed as potentially intersex, although the tests were never conducted. The staff said that she should not be housed with men, nor should be transferred with male prisoners. The harassment began, she was raped, and then began a grand tour of the federal and state prison system. In 22 months, she was in 24 different prisons and jails. Every time an attorney showed up, they moved her.

          Finally, a judge said, enough, and she got her day in court. I will never forget the words of the judge as he handed down his decision.”When something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it just might be a duck. In the case at hand, the plaintiff, walks and sounds like young woman, and she definitely looks like a young woman, so we have to consider that maybe she is a young woman.”

          He ordered her transferred to FCI Lexington, provided medical care and job training. She was eventually released on 10 years parole. With help she got surgical reassignment, and trained as a nurse.

          One night, while working in the ER, she got a needle stick while trying to draw blood on a violent patient. The patient was HIV+, and she passed away in 2003. That was just one case, I was involved in.

          Another involved a Hispanic client I worked with. She was known to be a hard worker, never known to take a sick day and was never late. When she didn’t show up one morning, they called but got no answer. Staff had seen her harassed on a number of occasions, so one of the staff went to her apartment. She found the door open, and when she stepped inside, the young lady was on the floor. She had been beaten and murdered. Her case became a cold case for 20+ years here in Santa Ana, then they got a break and caught the man who killed her. Love that DNA, although DNA testing was quite primitive at the time of the murder, they got a match this time.

          So, yes, times are changing, but there is still a lot of stupidity and irrational fear out there. Twenty-five years ago, help was limited. Fortunately, things have improved, and children are now permitted to transition at age four or five. They are given hormone blockers to prevent puberty, and then allowed to start on hormones when they are 15 or 16. It appears that they are going to forgo the hormone blockers in the next year or two, and will initiate hormone transition at puberty. But the harassment continues. Most kids don’t seem to care, but oh boy, parents are another matter. They don’t want their children attending school with “one of them”, referring to the young transgender child.

          So, as the late Christine Jorgensen would say, “We take three steps forward, and two back.”

          At 78, I’m no longer an activist, but when I see people making extraordinary claims about a person being guilty of a felony, when the person has never been on trial, and in this case might not have even been charged for anything beyond having come here illegally, the hairs on the back of my neck do tend to stand up.

          • LFOldTimer

            Your anecdotal information is interesting, Joanna. Thanks for sharing.
            But we’re veering off topic.

            The majority of Americans, myself included, agree that people shouldn’t be harassed or harmed in any way for the way they look or for what beliefs they hold.

            But this is about ICE deporting illegal foreigners who have been convicted of serious crimes. As I explained, per California law called “The Trust Act” local jailers are prohibited from transferring illegal foreigners over to the Feds for deportation unless that illegal foreigner has been convicted of a very serious crime. If you don’t believe me you can research it on-line.

            So those with deportation orders from a judge, per California law, had to be convicted of a serious crime at some point.

            I asked you some questions about this topic that you did not respond to. I too would like to learn more about the rationale of the activist’s position. But I can’t get a straight answer.

            So until someone provides some specific responses to pertinent questions that I have about this topic, I have nothing more to add.

          • Joanna Clark

            My problem here is that no evidence is provided regarding their having been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony. Most transgendered who come here, come to avoid persecution. Persecution, unfortunately, is alive and well here, as demonstrated by the number of states enacting, or trying to enact restroom legislation similar to North Carolina’s infamous HB2, or the ongoing harassment of transgender children in schools, and the irrational arguments presented in support of the harassment which forced President Obama to get involved. My belief today is that every human or sentient being should be guaranteed equal protection under color of law.

            If proof had been offered that the individuals had been found guilty of having committed a felony, my response might have been much different. ICE, as does our jail/prisonsystem, does not have a good track record when dealing with minorities, especially those labeled LGBT. I still remember the incident some years ago of ICE picking up a 12 year-old Hispanic child and dropping him off in TJ. The boy was a US citizen who was was suffering from autism.

    • Joanna Clark

      The 100 million is not limited to North American, it includes Central America and South America. Our ancestors germs killed far more that their guns and steel, but there are numerous records of deliberate infection.

  • InTheKnow

    I commit a crime, but because I’m transgender you can’t arrest me? Where is the logic in that? Does that apply to any distinction? I have curly hair so I get to do whatever I want without criminal prosecution? How about murder or rape or battery? How far does this ridiculous logic go?
    I sure hope the SAPD and the Santa Ana City Attorneys Office are going to do their job and enforce the anti-camping ordinance that covers that park.

    • Joanna Clark

      If a transgendered commits a crime, they go to jail like any other person, unless of course you’re white, and poison 70,000+ people, or if your company submits millions of dollars of false claims to Medicare, instead of jail, you get elected governor of Florida.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I am a huge supporter of the LGBT community, but I am not feeling too gung ho on this one. If you don’t want to be held in the ICE cells in any city, then do us all a favor and STOP BREAKING THE LAW, IDIOTS!

    Sheesh.

    • LFOldTimer

      Thank you for being a voice of reason, Jacki.

      This whole argument is so bizarre to me. I would completely understand if the transsexuals were being incarcerated for their gender identification. If so I would be 100% on their side. People in America should have a right to their own sexual preference (as long as it’s not children) or identity without the fear of being thrown in jail for it. But to my knowledge that’s not the case.

      Unless there’s a piece to the puzzle that escapes me, for ICE to deport a foreigner out of the country – particularly in the State of California – that person had to be convicted of a serious crime, per the Trust Act law. That law says, to my understanding, that local jailers are forbidden to transfer illegal foreigners who’ve done their jail time for misdemeanors and even for some non-violent felonies over to the Feds for deportation in the first place.

      So I would greatly appreciate it if someone would clear up the confusion on this topic. Are the protesters claiming that LGBT’s should be immune from criminal statutes and incarcerations based on their gender identification or sexual preference? That would be absurd.

      The manner in which these articles are written seems to support their cause, which only adds to the confusion.

      Please….someone explain. Give us the rest of the story.

  • Paul Lucas

    I dont understand how the city council has been able to get away with this when their constituency is the most densely latino populated metropolitan area in the state and I think in the nation.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Because people who did the work, obeyed the law and came here the right way, legally, have little sympathy for those who came over, without legal status, committing a felony.