Trans Woman dies in Immigration Detention Center (a repost of an article by Leslie Feinberg)

Olga Arellano spoke at a rally at the Federal Building in downtown Los
Angeles on Aug. 27 about how her 23-year-old daughter, Victoria, died July
20 at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) federal detention
facility in South Los Angeles.

"I can only find the strength to talk about this because I want people to
know what is going on inside that place," Olga Arellano stated. "I don't
want another family to have to live through this nightmare." (Daily
Journal, Aug. 9)

Authorities reportedly refused to give Victoria Arellano—an undocumented
Mexican transwoman with AIDS—urgently needed medical attention and her
critically necessary prescribed antibiotic, despite mass protests on her
behalf by other immigrant detainees. Authorities had imprisoned her since
May in a men's mass detention cell.

Outrage over Victoria Arellano's death is forging a coalition of
organizations that fight for immigrant rights, AIDS care, and trans,
lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. The bilingual Los Angeles vigil and
media conference was called by Arellano's family and Bienestar—a Latina
community service and advocacy organization working to meet the needs of
people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Aug. 26 call for the vigil was signed by Grupo de Apoyo HIVIDA in
Ciudad Juárez, México, and the following California-based groups: Asian
Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California; API Equality;
Garment Workers Center; Homies Unidos; Coalition of Humane Immigration
Rights of Los Angeles; Club Napa Gay; QTeam; Gay and Straight Alliance
Network; Inlakech; SELA HIV Prevention Program; Los Angeles Gay and
Lesbian Center; Transgender Law Center; The Wall Las Memorias Project; and
the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

National organizations included the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund (MALDEF); National Immigrant Solidarity Network; Project
Islamic HOPE; Lambda Legal; and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Coalición
de Derechos Humanos—Arizona; Immigration Equality—N.Y.; and Esperanza
Peace and Justice Center of Texas endorsed.

The immigrant rights March 25 Coalition and the Troops Out Now Coalition
supported and publicized the vigil.

Bienestar communications manager, Coral Lopez, said: "This case
exemplifies what we've been saying for all these years—immigration is in
fact an LGBT issue. Victoria's unfortunate death demonstrates why we need
to be working in coalition on these issues."

A solidarity vigil for Victoria Arellano was also held Aug. 28 at the
Federal Building in Tucson, Ariz. Sponsoring groups included Derechos
Humanos, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, May 1st
Coalition, Borderland Theater, Fundación México, Tucson Samaritans, Salt
of the Earth Labor College, Humane Borders and Wingspan—Southern Arizona's
LGBT community center.

That vigil called for socially just legislation, an end to deaths at the
border, an end to raids, a moratorium on immigration detentions and
deportations, restoration and expansion of the due process rights of all
immigrants and protection and expansion of the labor, human and civil
rights of all immigrants and refugees.

Prisoners protested for Victoria

Victoria Arellano, whose birth name was Víctor, came to the U.S. as a
child. As a young adult, she worked at a supermarket in West Hollywood
while volunteering at a drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Three years before her detention, she was medically described as
"asymptomatic." She was prescribed a dose of antibiotics—first bactrim and
later dapasone—designed to stave off pulmonary infections that could lead
to pneumonia.

Arellano was swept up by ICE agents in May and denied medication while in
detention facing deportation.

"The consequences of taking someone off that medication," observed
Homayoon Khanlou, chief of medicine for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation,
"is that within a few weeks a patient may unfortunately develop pneumonia
and then not respond to treatment." (Daily Journal, Aug. 9)

She was held in a mass cell designed to bunk 50 men, but in which some 80
prisoners were crammed.

If the tenderness of the solidarity that the immigrant men showed to
Arellano could have saved her life, she would still be alive.

The respect for her as a trans prisoner can be heard in the quotes by the
men jailed with her, who described in an Aug. 9 Daily Journal report how
Arellano lay in a bunk bed suffering from excruciating headaches, stomach
cramps and back pain.

Prisoner Oscar Santander recalled, "We all asked the guards for help, to
take Victoria to the infirmary, but no one did anything."

In the last two weeks of her life, prisoner Walter Ayala said, "She was so
sick that if you tried to move her she would scream."

He stressed, "We made requests to the infirmary asking for help because
she was so sick. She wasn't eating, she had constant diarrhea, and she was
vomiting blood. The nurse who responded was totally inhumane. She said,
'Oh, is that the same person you complained to us about before? The doctor
hasn't approved any medication. Just give her Tylenol and water, and it'll
go away.' This happened each time we made a request for six days."

The men described how they used their bath towels soaked in cold water to
try to bring down her fever and brought cardboard boxes for her to throw
up into. The immigrant detainees cleaned up the blood and vomit.

Under pressure from those imprisoned with Arellano, on July 13 the
detention center infirmary gave her a prescription for amoxicillin, which
is not an antibiotic used to treat AIDS-related infections, medical
experts noted.

Less than a day later she was back in the cell. Arellano couldn't stomach
the drugs and threw up blood, Santander said.

"The last week was the worst," he stressed. "She couldn't stand so we took
turns taking her to the bathroom."

Prisoner Abel Gutierrez said, "She was so sick and they wouldn't do
anything." Gutierrez described how that night, 80 of her fellow prisoners
defied the order to line up for evening head count, and staged a protest
on Arellano's behalf.

Gutierrez said the detainees chanted one word loudly in unison, over and
over: "Hospital!"

More than 70 of the prisoners signed a petition demanding immediate
medical care for Arellano.

The mass demonstration by prisoners forced officials to call an ambulance.
Arellano was taken to the intensive care unit of Little Company of Mary

There, although she was too weak to stand and on a respirator, Arellano's
mother found her daughter chained to a hospital bed, while two immigration
agents stood at the door.

Olga Arellano said, "At times, my Victoria wanted to reposition her body,
but she couldn't because she was shackled." Guards refused the mother's
request to unchain her daughter, who died two days later.

Medical neglect is lynching

After Arellano's death, her fellow prisoners collected $245 from what
little money they had and sent it to the Arellano family. (Daily Journal)

Arellano family attorney Roman Silberfeld stressed the solidarity shown by
the more than 70 detainees who petitioned authorities for immediate care
for a fellow prisoner. "These are people who are on the verge of being
deported and have their cases pending and yet they stand up to the
government that could kick them out and say, 'This is wrong.'" (Los
Angeles Times, Aug. 11)

More than 20 of the men who contacted outside help on Arellano's behalf or
witnessed her mistreatment were reportedly transferred out of the Los
Angeles area, which disrupted their legal consultations and family visits.

Bardis Vakili, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California, added that some of the detainees who were transferred were not
allowed to bring their legal papers, although they were days from court
hearings. "This means these men don't have access to their immigration
paperwork, or the research they did on their case. Many of them are
representing themselves and this makes it very difficult for them."

The Arellano family announced plans to file a wrongful death claim against
the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. government agencies.

Arellano was the third prisoner known to have died at the San Pedro
center. Since Arellano's death, a pregnant Mexican woman in El Paso and a
Brazilian man in Rhode Island have died in immigration custody. A total of
62 prisoners are known to have died in federal immigration detention since

Close to 30,000 immigrants are believed to be imprisoned in some 400
privately run and federal detention centers and jails. (Los Angeles Times,
Aug. 11)

Confiscation of badly needed medication and refusing life-and-death
medical attention are lynchings. Solidarity—the kind of unity that
Victoria Arellano inspired—is a powerful weapon against this war of terror
being waged against the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey