Content Note: Rape, Abuse, Violence
Intersectionality is often used in very positive ways – to affirm multiple identities, to demand voice for the multiply marginalized, and so forth. This is valid and vital, but I read the source material (Crenshaw’s work) as saying something less pleasant. To me, the core message of intersectionality is that oppressive forces intersect, endangering people whose identity incorporates multiply marginalized categories.
Today, Tina Vasquez (writing for Rewire) has a piece on a disabled, trans, immigrant and the many ways her rights have been disregarded. As always, please read the whole piece.
The story discusses M, who has mental health issues, cognitive disabilities, and a seizure disorder. She is the survivor of trauma. She is transgender. She is, of course, an immigrant. She is (I assume) not white.
She’s done everything right, but the system has failed her. Some quotes:
While there, Ramos said M was subjected to verbal abuse from officers who mocked her transgender identity, with one officer passing her cell and saying, “What’s the story with this one,” according to M’s attorney. Eventually, M was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, where M says the trauma continued, explained Ramos.
M was held in a cell with men for 12 hours as she was processed into Otay Mesa, with one detainee staring at her aggressively for the entire 12 hours, according to her attorney. After processing, M was placed in medical isolation for reasons Ramos said she could not share out of respect for M’s privacy. Later, M was brought into the shower area with men. Though she was given her own private stall, male detainees showered nearby, Ramos said.
“She began experiencing flashbacks and felt like she was going to be raped again,” Ramos said. “She felt helpless because the officers were not taking her concerns seriously. It was incredibly traumatizing.”
Ebadolahi told Rewire current U.S. immigration policies only subject traumatized, vulnerable asylum seekers to more trauma—and M is one of the more “fortunate” ones. After successfully passing her credible fear interview, M was released from detention on April 11.
“We’re talking about a transgender woman who is a survivor of multiple rapes, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, who has disabilities, including a seizure disorder, who has gone through a lifetime of hurt, and for who the simple act of appearing at the port of entry and applying for asylum took an enormous effort—and despite all of these things, she is considered one of the fortunate ones because she has a pro-bono lawyer working on her behalf,” Ebadolahi said.
“How M and her attorney were treated at the port of entry and … in detention, is unconstitutional, unethical, and outrageous. We shouldn’t tolerate it. This treatment serves absolutely no legitimate, government purpose and only serves to further traumatize and marginalize very vulnerable people. No one should be subject to this kind of abuse. This has to stop.”
Our system to protect asylum seekers only magnifies trauma. We need to do better.