After her parents left Peru in search of better economic opportunities in the U.S., Christina Lopez followed. She wanted to be with her family and, as a transgender woman facing violence in Peru, emigrating was a matter of life and death for her.
But when she arrived, things here were difficult. She had little access to resources and experienced a complicated relationship with her family because of her gender identity. She became involved in an abusive relationship, and began to have a drinking problem—leading to a DUI charge that ultimately pushed her into immigration detention and deportation proceedings. She was held in detention, in a male facility, for over a year and a half. There she was denied medication she needed to treat her Hepatitis C.
Transgender Law Center joined the #not1more campaign, Familia: TQLM, and Get Equal to demand her release—and after months of fighting, she was freed. As Transgender Law Center Program Director Isa Noyola said at the time, “Christina’s case is important because it represents the complex ways transgender communities are criminalized and their actions of survival borne of trauma are used to justify their detention.”
Christina’s story, with the exception of her ultimate release from detention, is devastatingly common. So many transgender immigrants seeking safety in the U.S. are shunned and forced into survival actions, detained in abusive conditions, and sent back to the violence they fled.
Now we have an administration that campaigned on hostility towards transgender people, immigrants, and people of color, and an already dire situation for transgender immigrants has escalated to constant crisis. In just a few weeks in office, President Trump has already moved forward several actions to criminalize and deport transgender immigrants at record levels.
The threats and attacks, of course, go far beyond immigration. From state legislation singling out transgender youth for harassment to a new presidential administration that has pledged to target Muslims, immigrants, people of color, women, people with disabilities and so many other members of our communities, we know that 2017 will be a difficult year across the board for transgender people.
Already, in the wake of Trump’s election, requests to Transgender Law Center’s helpline have doubled. People fear they’ll be denied identity documents that reflect who they are, that they will lose their health care, and even that they will be in danger of violence when they are just going about their day—a reasonable fear given that three transgender people have already been murdered in these first few weeks of 2017.
We do not know for sure what is coming, but we know that this is a moment for our community to come together as we did for Christina. As the attacks become more intense, we cannot allow our government to pit us against each other and convince some of us that others are disposable. We must hold the complexity of each other’s experiences as people are driven to difficult choices by the situations they face, and still honor and protect each other as human beings.
Transgender Law Center’s newly launched Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE) relies on pro bono attorneys, and needs many more volunteer attorneys to show up for transgender immigrant rights. We are restructuring our legal information helpline to meet increased demand with skilled volunteers. We are compiling and spreading the word about legal clinics held by individuals and organizations across the country.
Transgender Law Center is mobilizing to meet our communities’ needs by turning back to community for support. As a community, we need each other now more than ever.
Ilona Turner is the Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center, https://transgenderlawcenter.org/