Activists begin hunger strike, call for halt to detention of transgender immigrants

SANTA ANA, Calif. — “We cannot be excluded. We also need to be part of the conversation.” That’s what Jennicet Gutiérrez, a leader of the transgender immigrant rights movement, said about why she and others have launched a hunger strike in this Southern California city. They are demanding an end to the detention of transgender immigrants both locally at the Santa Ana City Jail and nationally at the facilities of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The city of Santa Ana, one of the most Latino and most immigrant cities in the country, contracts with ICE to detain immigrants at a rate of $105 per person per day. Activists say the facility maintains specific pods (or holding areas) for transgender and queer detainees. The issue most recently came to national attention when it was highlighted on a Human Rights Watch Report concerning the deplorable conditions transgender women face in the detention system, and especially after community members defeated a February attempt to expand the scope of immigrant detention in the facility.

People’s World met up with Gutiérrez in Sasser Park on day one of the hunger strike. She and fellow hunger striker Jorge Gutierrez, both immigrant rights activists with an emphasis on the immigrant transgender community, spoke with us about their demands and hopes for immigration rights and transgender visibility.

Roberto Herrera, a member of DeColores Queer Orange County, and one of the organizers of the hunger strike reported that at the Santa Ana city council meeting held Tuesday May 15, it was decided to let the contract with ICE run out in 2020 but not to expand or end it any sooner. “We will continue the hunger strike until Friday and then begin a campaign to educate council members on transgender issues,” said Herrera.

Deyaneira García, a youth organizer and another of the strikers, stated, “There is no such thing as a humane way to detain someone. Rather than provide cover for ICE and DHS, Santa Ana’s Council members should stand with the community and become leaders in the fight against trans detention by rejecting ICE’s dirty money, and ending their jail contract with the deportation agency.”

Jorge Gutierrez, who has also lost a family member to deportation, wanted to send a message to the eligible voting public regarding the upcoming elections and the continued fight for justice. He explained, “Our message for this election year, as you hear candidates like Trump running on such a homophobic, transphobic, racist, anti- women agenda [know] that there is another world happening that we’re creating. Like this one here, where we’re really fighting for racial justice. We’re fighting for the dignity of our people. [People] should keep that mind and do whatever they need to do. Whether that’s voting, organizing, talking and educating their own communities, that we need to do the best that we can, so that those people who end up in power really do represent our communities.”

The demands issued by the strikers include:

1.    That the Santa Ana City Council schedule a vote to cancel the city’s jail contract with ICE, which allows the city to profit from the detention of undocumented immigrants, including transgender women.

2.    That the Santa Ana City Council advocate for the release of transgender immigrant women from detention centers across the country.

3.    That the Department of Homeland Security and ICE end the use of detention for transgender immigrant women, who face disproportionate abuse and rights violations inside both private and public detention centers.

Hunger striker bios:

Deyaneira García is an 18 year old, undocumented youth organizer from Santa Ana who migrated from México City. She is currently finishing her senior year at Segerstrom High School. García began organizing around immigrant rights – focused on bringing the voice of people her age into the movement. She has participated in various community events through the Orange County Immigrant Youth United and RAIZ (the Orange County, CA chapter of the Immigrant Youth Coalition) on behalf of young adults, immigrants, and residents of Santa Ana. Her biggest achievement has been the creation of a curriculum for students in order to make their transition into organizing spaces smoother. García believes that migration is not only a human right but a community concern that everyone should come together to protect.

Jennicet Gutiérrez is a transgender activist and organizer from México who currently resides in Los Angeles. She is best known for shedding light on the plight of transgender women in immigration detention centers through her organization FAMILIA: TQLM (Trans Queer Liberation Movement). She made national news when she interrupted President Obama during his White House speech in honor of Pride Month, calling attention to the struggles of trans immigrant women. Jennicet believes in the importance of uplifting and centering the voices of trans women of color in all racial justice work, and will continue to organize in order to end the deportation, incarceration, and criminalization of immigrants and all people of color. 

Jorge Gutierrez is an UndocuQueer organizer born in Nayarit, Mexico, and was raised in Santa Ana, California. His organizing bridges immigrant rights, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights and works across issues and communities in order to end the systems that are killing, incarcerating, and deporting people of color.  Most recently he is the founder of FAMILIA: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, a national and local organizing, political and cultural home for the LGBTQ Latin@/Latinx/Latino community in the United States. Familia: TQLM is currently leading a national campaign #EndTransDetention to end the detention and deportation of trans undocumented women and stop all deportations.  In addition, he has co-founded various organizations focused on social justice for the LGBTQ, Latinx and immigrant communities: DeColores Queer Orange County, the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), and the founder of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP).

Photo: video snapshot showing transgender activist Jennicet Gutierrez.


Rossana Cambron
Rossana Cambron

Rossana Cambron is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. She is active in the peace and immigrant rights movements, enjoys learning about new technology and reading about historical events. She is also a videographer for People's World in Southern California.