Thursday, December 03, 2009

Esmeralda: A Transgender Detainee Speaks by Break Through

Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty

Despite the Obama Administration’s assurance to alter the functionality of the Detention System, not much has been done. The much ambitious Detention System is stretched across over 500 country jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, with immigration detention being a $ 1.8 billion business (estimated to hold approx. 442 941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone). The accounts from these detention centres portray horrifying depictions of ruthless and brutal existences of detainees where they are denied basic facilities such as visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to regular physical and verbal abuse. Vulnerable people including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents as well as US citizens find themselves amongst those detained in these centres.

The short video ‘Esmeralda: A Transgender Detainee Speaks’ by Break Through as part of the Restore Fairness Campaign is a similar vignette that depicts a dismal chronicle of the US detention system, whereby transgender detainees undergo severe mental turmoil and physical abuse in centres which are meant for protection. The video deals with plight of Esmeralda, a transgender who seeks asylum in the United States of America, which she considered as having a more conducive environment than her home country, Mexico. Her aspiration to lead a ‘normal’ life at a free environment of the US turned out to be her worst nightmare. Facing discrimination at Mexico even from her family she wanted to pursue her ambitions at the United States and therefore had applied for asylum in the country. Subsequently she was detained. At the detention centre she was (like other transgender detainees) kept in a segregated cell and would even be taken to the bathroom in handcuffs. She says, “They would handcuff us as if we were murderers and were trying to escape.... but we were not trying to run away.” Esmeralda was also not allowed to drink or do anything that the other detainees were. Further she faced severe sexual abuse by an immigration guard who forced himself on her since she was handcuffed in a cell and could do little to defend herself. Additionally, when she protested against it and the immigration guard was sentenced to jail for a 6 months term, Esmeralda began to be watched even more closely for the guards were angry with her on telling on one of them. She felt so claustrophobic and suicidal that she wanted psychiatric help, which she was further denied. Following this, she cancelled her asylum and went back to Mexico and on applying for it the second time, she was detained with male detainees which was further more shocking for her and for as long as she lived in the detention centre, she lived in constant terror. Finally, she was granted asylum in the US. Esmeralda currently finds herself as a successful advocate fighting for the cause of sexual violence and its survivors in the US. Thus even while on the one hand, the video exudes a strong pessimistic undertone it ends on an optimistic flavour of ‘hope’ for positive change.

Watch video at:

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