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Dead because of ICE neglect

September 7, 2007 | Page 15

GILLIAN RUSSOM reports on a vigil and press conference in memory of Victoria Arellano.

LOS ANGELES--Some 100 supporters of Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender woman who died after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials denied her AIDS medicine, gathered in front of the federal building August 27 for a vigil and press conference in her memory.

Victoria's condition began deteriorating in May when, after entering the country illegally for the second time, she was detained at the San Pedro facility. ICE officials denied her gender identity and put her in a men's detention center, in a cell designed for 50 men, but which was holding 80.

While ICE officials systematically denied her medical attention, Victoria was cared for by inmates at the facility, who took turns taking her to the bathroom and brought her cool towels.

As Victoria's condition worsened, the 80 other detainees protested the denial of her treatment, chanting "Hospital!" and ignoring an order to get in line for the night's head count. She was transported to a hospital in San Pedro, but was returned to the facility within 24 hours.

Victoria became sicker and was again transported to the hospital, this time, to the intensive care unit of Little Company of Mary Hospital in San Pedro. She was handcuffed to her bunk, and her door was guarded by two immigration agents.

She died on July 20. Following Arellano's death, her fellow inmates sent her mother $245.

Victoria's family is filing a wrongful death suit against the federal government. At the press conference, a representative from the ACLU explained that ICE officials have transferred several of the witnesses to other detention centers so they can't talk with lawyers in Victoria's case.

Sixty-four people have died in ICE custody in the last two years, including two others at the San Pedro detention center. Most have been victims of medical neglect.

At the vigil, Victoria's mother, Olga Arellano, read a powerful statement in Spanish that her daughter, Laura, translated into English. "We are speaking out so that in the future no one suffers what she suffered in the detention center, and no family goes through what we are going through," she said. "But we want to thank the other immigrants at the detention center, women and men from many different countries who at great risk to their own futures did everything they could do demand that she get her medical care, and ensured that she was not alone in her darkest days."

Dennis DeLeon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York, said, "You and I know that the fact that she was transgender was a big factor in the way she was treated. Her identity as an immigrant was another reason for discarding her." Bamby Salcedo, a transgender activist, added, "What happened to Victoria is very similar to things that happen to us as transgender people continually, and we're here to tell them, 'Enough!'"

As a speaker from Bienestar, a Latino AIDS activist organization that organized the event, put it, "What is more illegal: to let someone die in the way they did? Or for Victoria to be in this country in the only way she could?"

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