San Francisco public defender seeks restraining order protecting transgender ICE inmate

The San Francisco Public Defender's Office has filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Yuba County Sheriff's Office, asking for an immediate hearing on behalf of a female transgender immigrant they say was illegally transferred on Christmas night to a remote detention facility in Texas.

The Public Defender's office says the immigrant, Lexis Avilez, has since been detained at that Texas facility in segregated confinement, forced to wear male clothes, and denied the ability to call her lawyer at no cost.

The motion was filed Friday in federal court in San Francisco.

"We are gravely concerned for Lexis's health and safety," said San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Hector Vega, who took on Avilez's case in January 2019. "This was a callous act from a heartless agency and we demand that ICE release Lexis from custody."

In taking on Avilez's case, Vega helped her obtain medical treatment, therapy, legal recognition of her female name and gender, and legal representation in her pending immigration case, according to the public defender's office.

Avilez entered the U.S. as a baby and has resided in San Francisco since 1979.

Born a boy, Avilez has struggled throughout her life to understand her identity, and suffered verbal and physical abuse from her immediate family well into adulthood, according to the public defender's office. In 2018, she was taken into ICE custody and placed in removal proceedings, and has been in ICE custody ever since.

On Christmas Day, she was transferred to the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas. In Friday's statement from the Public Defender's office, Avilez said, "ICE and the other officers know how difficult the last 14 months have been for me and yet have had no compassion for the way they detain me and move me around like I mean nothing."