By Jose Servin
After spending three years behind bars, Valeria De la Luz finally walked out of an Albuquerque, New Mexico Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on Friday with just an ankle monitor thanks to community efforts that crowdfunded her $3,000 bond. De la Luz, a SanTana-based trans immigrant activist, previously served time for involuntary manslaughter in 2015 after another trans women, Katia de la Riva, tragically died from silicone embolism syndrome following body modification injections she administered at a “silicone party.”
De la Luz finished two years time-served at the Santa Ana Men’s Jail for that conviction. On the day of her release, ICE immediately detained her, citing a “serious crime” on her record as reason enough to deny asylum. She first came to the United States from Mexico seeking such protection from the anti-trans violence of her home country. Though De la Luz’s fight to remain here on asylum continues, her bond release is a victory for organizers who have advocated tirelessly for transgender rights. She demonstrated the resilience that’s often necessary for the most stratified and oppressed community in the United States and across the world. Her case is a testament to the difficulties encountered by the trans community even prior to the Trump Administration’s removal of anti-discriminatory LGBT policies.
When De la Luz originally requested asylum four years ago at the border in San Diego because she feared for her life, immigration officials determined that her fear was credible and put her into deportation proceedings so that she could see a judge who would determine if her case for asylum was valid. While De la Luz’s case lingered through the notoriously slow-moving immigration courts, she became passionately involved in Familia TransQueer Liberation, a local organization that advocates strongly for LGBT rights. De la Luz evolved into a leader of the movement that ultimately ended the decade-long jail contract between Santa Ana and ICE.
Despite De la Luz’s activism and perseverance, she got entangled in a criminal system that disproportionately affects trans women for pursuing their needs and rights. Silicone parties are born out of necessity by offering quick and affordable–albeit risky–opportunities for trans women, especially those in transition, to achieve long sought-after changes to their bodies. They are often the only option for many in a community which has the greatest lack of access to basic healthcare, housing and employment. The activist was convicted for a tragedy that could have easily happened to her.
Too often, campaigns and grassroots organizations have accepted the help and leadership of trans women without recognizing their struggle. Many of the tactics we use today developed from the LGBT rights movements of the late 70’s, and many of the people on the front lines in the struggle for immigrant rights are LGBT folks whose migration is often driven by intolerable conditions in their home countries.
Accepting that these situations occur and feeling bad has never been a viable option, and it continues not to be. Cases like De la Luz’s deserve attention, priority, and must be used as examples to drive the change necessary so that what happened to her ceases to happen to other trans women.