More than a dozen activists held a community vigil outside the Santa Ana Jail last night to draw attention to Christina Lopez, a transgender undocumented immigrant held nearly two years awaiting possible deportation. With protests sign in one hand and lit candles in the other, they called for Lopez to be released and reunited with her family in Anaheim.
"She was happy, friendly and sociable," her mom, Clara Lopez, said in Spanish of her daughter before life in detention. "In a moment of depression over a break up, she began to drink." Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hasn't replied to the Weekly's request for comment on Christina's case. Immigrant rights activists from Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) and Familia:Trans Queer Liberation Movement are pretty earnest, though, about how she ended up in la migra's clutches.
They note three DUIs on Christina's record, the last being the decisive one. But Christina's life as a trans woman of color has been one of hardship, they argue, whether fleeing discriminatory violence in Peru or surviving an abusive relationship in Anaheim. "That's where the root of the problem is," says Jorge Gutierrez, Director of Familia:Trans Queer Liberation Movement, "the violence, discrimination, racism and transphobia these women are facing."
Life without Christina hasn't been easy for Clara. "Now that I don't have her help, it's hard for me, because I'm alone," she says. Her son has autism and Christina helped with care taking. Clara expressed gratitude for all the people who turned out for the vigil and have taken up Christina's cause.
The community vigil is part of a national week of action for the Not1More Deportation Campaign leading up to the National Transgender Day of Remembrance and the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's DACA/DAPA executive order. Though the deportation relief programs are tied up in litigation, Christina as a transgender woman with DUIs wouldn't qualify anyway.
"While we're waiting for courts to do something our people are still getting deported," Gutierrez says. "Highlighting her case is to say trans women face unique challenges and abuses in detention centers but for us, getting Christina out is a starting point to ending all detention." The city of Santa Ana, of course, rents jail bed space where she stays in an ongoing contract with ICE.
With activist help, Christina got a pro bono lawyer only in the past two months. According to Gutierrez, her case is awaiting appeal. Supporters are also looking in asylum opportunities due to the violence against transgender people in Peru. "She's a victim of domestic violence, so there might be a possibility for a U visa," Gutierrez adds. "At this point, what we are leaning on is the community organizing effort to put enough pressure to have ICE release her now."
With her face illumined by the light of a flickering candle, Clara tries to stay as optimistic as her daughter. "They've wanted to deport her twice already, but Christina is fighting to find ways to stay here," she says. "She has hope of being freed and being by my side."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2