Trans Asylum Seeker Alejandra is Released, but U.S. Must Guarantee She Remains Safe

Alejandra Barrera, a transgender Salvadorian activist who had been held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since November 2017, was released September 6, 2019, as a result of international advocacy efforts, spearheaded by Amnesty International, the Translatin@ Coalition, National Immigrant Justice Center, and dozens of members of the United States Congress.

Letter of thanks written by Alejandra for all the support on her case. It reads; “Hello everyone, My name is Alejandra. Thanks for all the support I received and that our voice was heard, I finally have the freedom that I desired so much. Thanks to all the supporters that worked long days so that all of this was possible. I´d like to thank all the organizations that united to make all this possible, finally my chains have been broken. Thanks to God, I thank my lawyer who fought so hard to achieve my dream. Thank you to all the people who marched to tell the government that they were committing a great injustice by detaining me. Thanks be to God because for Him there is nothing impossible. Thank you to all my friends for helping me stay calm and survive my detention. I´m grateful that life gave me this great gift of freedom. I love you all and send my blessings. Thank you very much.”

“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting” said Alejandra in response to advocacy efforts on her behalf.

Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA said: “People have the right to seek safety from persecution. There was no reason why Alejandra should have been locked up for seeking protection. Alejandra’s story is not an isolated case, there are many more trans people seeking asylum in the United States stuck waiting for months in detention centers where they are at risk of ill-treatment because of their gender identity and medical needs. It is cruel and unnecessary for U.S. immigration authorities to detain people fleeing to the U.S. in search of safety from persecution and violence, including brave women like Alejandra.”

Alejandra was detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico for twenty months, where she reported inadequate and unresponsive medical care. Authorities unfairly denied her requests for parole five times and at one point, Alejandra faced imminent deportation. In August 2019, Alejandra’s lawyers from the National Immigrant Justice Center filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Alejandra’s behalf, arguing that her prolonged detention violated due process protections against indefinite detention under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. In response to the habeas, Alejandra was released by ICE.

Tania Linares Garcia, senior attorney with NIJC’s LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Initiative said: “People who flee persecution have a right to seek asylum and no one should have to endure abuse while they pursue that right. While we celebrate that Alejandra now is free, we continue to fight for other transgender women who remain in ICE custody, including our client Kelly* who has been detained for over two years.”

Amnesty International is calling for a fair and full hearing and assessment of Alejandra’s asylum claim, as all people seeking safety in the United States should receive. Amnesty International remains gravely concerned that Alejandra’s life is at great risk if she is denied protection and returned to El Salvador. Amnesty International maintains that transgender and all asylum seekers must be protected at all costs their forcible return. What’s more, those seeking protection should never be detained based solely on their migration status.


Alejandra fought for transgender rights for more than a decade in El Salvador. She was forced to flee after repeated attacks by a criminal gang, as well as abuses by the Salvadoran military. Alejandra was sexually assaulted by both the gang and military personnel because of her transgender identity.