Naomi Rosales Ramirez, a 34-year-old undocumented transgender woman, has been incarcerated for four months in a men’s unit at what an Arizona congressperson once described as “the deadliest immigration detention center in the U.S.,” the privately owned and operated Eloy Detention Center. Ramirez, like thousands of others, has no idea how long she will be there, nor where she may be sent.
Ramirez was detained on July 5 when she was racially profiled by a Phoenix “police assistant,” a uniformed civilian employed by the police department for minor crime enforcement.
While standing on the light rail platform with a friend who planned to catch a train, a police assistant assumed Ramirez and her friend were drinking alcohol and approached them. Turns out it was tea. That didn’t deter the police assistant. The open-container check then became a fare inspection. Ramirez wasn’t planning on riding the train and didn’t have a $2 ticket, but she was standing in a “paid fare zone.” The deportation machine in Maricopa County works so swiftly that within 48 hours, Ramirez, a 30-year resident of the United States, would be caged at the deadly Eloy Detention Center, awaiting deportation.
The Phoenix metro area has some of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the country. Gentrification is always accompanied by increased policing of poor people and racial profiling. In metro systems this translates into fare hikes and increased funding for transit cops who aggressively crackdown on fare evasion by low-income people and use the alleged enforcement of all sorts of minor laws to harass members of marginalized communities.
In the Valley Metro system that serves gentrifying Phoenix, people are required to purchase a ticket not only to ride the train, but to stand or sit anywhere on light rail property for any reason. A 2017 campaign dubbed “Respect the Ride” encouraged heavier policing of the metro. The police and “police assistants” have ultimate authority to discriminate and profile. Racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant sentiments, the stock-in-trade of all U.S. law enforcement, become the main factors determining how different people are viewed and treated, especially women such as Ramirez, an activist and drag performer in Phoenix’s LGBTQ community, whose birthplace was Mexico.
When Ramirez could not produce a $2 ticket, the “police assistant” issued a citation and ran a background check. This background check revealed an old warrant for failure to appear before court in May 2012. Undocumented immigrants are often fearful of appearing before court for any reason because it may result in ICE detention and deportation.
When Ramirez was arrested she was brought to Maricopa County’s jail where every single person who is booked is interviewed and screened by ICE agents. When Ramirez was released one day after her arrest, ICE agents detained her outside the jail. She has not been free since.
Ramirez is being represented pro-bono by The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project which is calling for her release on bond while she waits to see an immigration judge. FIRRP argues that ICE facilities are inherently dangerous places for trans migrants who all should be released on humanitarian grounds while fighting for asylum. These concerns are well founded.
Ramirez reports being the target of bigoted insults by guards and their commanding officers. FIRRP and the Kino Border Initiative recently issued a press release about the abuse and violence faced by two other trans women held in the same men’s unit where Ramirez is currently imprisoned.
Most infamously, transgender asylum seeker Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez died in 2018 in an ICE facility in New Mexico after being beaten and suffering monstrous medical neglect. It was recently reported that even as the family of Hernández is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, ICE has destroyed all surveillance footage of her while in custody, destroying irreplaceable evidence likely to incriminate ICE authorities.
Grassroots community organizations like Phoenix-based Trans Queer Pueblo, which corresponds with and advocates for trans ICE prisoners all over the Southwest, has been pointing out for years that all LGBTQ people’s lives are in acute danger inside of ICE concentration camps, and demanding political liberty for all.
Naomi Ramirez Rosales deserves justice, as does every person imprisoned in ICE concentration camps. The impact of her detainment has shaken the lives of her friends and family, deepening a sense of insecurity, but also hardening the commitment to fight back and win!