Targeted, Imprisoned, Deported, Dead: How ICE’s Detention Can Be Deadly to Migrants

Human rights advocate Durvi Martinez was first detained by Vermont State Police. Then ICE stepped in.

Arvind Dilawar

Human rights advocate Durvi Martinez demands ICE release their fellow Migrant Justice leader Victor Diaz on May 1, 2016. In March, Martinez was deported to Mexico, where they died of Covid. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIGRANT JUSTICE

BURLING­TON, VT. — Durvi Mar­tinez left Mex­i­co after expe­ri­enc­ing intense and vio­lent dis­crim­i­na­tion” as a trans­gen­der woman, says Will Lam­bek, a staff mem­ber with Migrant Jus­tice, a human rights orga­ni­za­tion for dairy farm­work­ers. Mar­tinez, then 27, arrived in Ver­mont in 2015 and worked on a dairy farm, join­ing Migrant Jus­tice after attend­ing one of its work­er assem­blies. Soon, Mar­tinez (they/​them) was involved in Migrant Justice’s many march­es and actions in defense of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, the back­bone of Vermont’s dairy industry. 

One of their first march­es with the orga­ni­za­tion was fol­low­ing the [Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment] arrest of a Migrant Jus­tice leader named Vic­tor Diaz,” Lam­bek says. Durvi par­tic­i­pat­ed in and helped to lead that march, and that was ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful in get­ting Vic­tor released — and he’s still in the coun­try and remains a Migrant Jus­tice leader today.” 

Mar­tinez would have a dif­fer­ent fate, one that illus­trates how ICE per­pet­u­ates trans­pho­bic vio­lence and the ongo­ing Covid-19 pan­dem­ic in the Unit­ed States and abroad — and the com­plic­i­ty of local police in doing so. 

Mar­tinez became part of Vermont’s indis­pens­able, yet extreme­ly per­se­cut­ed, undoc­u­ment­ed dairy work­force. Accord­ing to the 2019 book Life on the Oth­er Bor­der: Farm­work­ers and Food Jus­tice in Ver­mont, one in sev­en Ver­mont dairy work­ers are Lat­inx migrants, 90% of whom are thought to be undoc­u­ment­ed. Because more than 94% of Ver­mont res­i­dents are white, and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Ver­mont dairy farms are with­in 25 miles of the Cana­di­an bor­der, Lat­inx farm­work­ers are high­ly vis­i­ble and vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets for ICE. 

Migrant Jus­tice and oth­er immi­grants’ rights groups suc­cess­ful­ly pushed for the pas­sage of the Fair and Impar­tial Polic­ing pol­i­cy (FIP) in 2017, to help defend Vermont’s undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion. In the­o­ry, FIP pre­vents local law enforce­ment from work­ing with fed­er­al immi­gra­tion author­i­ties, with excep­tions for pub­lic and offi­cer safety. 

On Jan­u­ary 11, Mar­tinez was arrest­ed by Ver­mont State Police for alleged­ly dri­ving under the influ­ence. A Ver­mont State Police offi­cer then alert­ed U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion about Mar­tinez, based on the total­i­ty of the cir­cum­stances,” says Adam Sil­ver­man, pub­lic infor­ma­tion offi­cer with the state police. Those cir­cum­stances, Sil­ver­man acknowl­edges, were sim­ply Martinez’s two pre­vi­ous bor­der-cross­ing arrests. ICE took cus­tody of Mar­tinez the next day. 

Mar­tinez was then held in men’s pris­ons despite being a trans woman, first by the U.S. Mar­shals at North­west State Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty in Swan­ton, Vt., then by ICE at Straf­ford Coun­ty Cor­rec­tions in Dover, N.H.

John Cur­tis, a super­vi­so­ry deputy with the Mar­shals, says the pol­i­cy is not to imprison trans peo­ple in facil­i­ties that don’t match their gen­der iden­ti­ty, but I don’t know the specifics on her, or him, or how­ev­er she iden­ti­fies,” regard­ing Mar­tinez. ICE failed to respond to In These Times’ request for com­ment but has tout­ed two prison units ded­i­cat­ed to trans women. Most trans pris­on­ers, how­ev­er, are held with the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, where harass­ment, assault and mis­treat­ment have been reported. 

Accord­ing to Migrant Jus­tice, at some point after March 10— the start of Martinez’s ICE impris­on­ment — Mar­tinez request­ed a cred­i­ble fear screen­ing,” the first step in the process of seek­ing asy­lum from trans­pho­bic vio­lence in Mex­i­co. But before Mar­tinez could secure an immi­gra­tion attor­ney, ICE was mov­ing ahead with depor­ta­tion. Lam­bek thinks the speed of Martinez’s depor­ta­tion could be linked to the pan­dem­ic. Dur­ing that time, ICE was under pres­sure to reduce the num­ber of peo­ple it impris­oned because social dis­tanc­ing is impos­si­ble in pris­ons. Rather than release peo­ple to spon­sors, ICE chose to rush depor­ta­tions. At most, ICE gave Mar­tinez 10 days to pur­sue asy­lum. They were deport­ed March 20

That fear of Covid-19 was ulti­mate­ly real­ized: On July 1, Mar­tinez died of the coro­n­avirus in Mex­i­co. Accord­ing to Lam­bek, Mar­tinez was first denied care at a pub­lic facil­i­ty before their fam­i­ly was forced to seek treat­ment at a pri­vate hospital. 

As may have been the case with Mar­tinez, crit­ics warn that depor­ta­tions are export­ing the virus to oth­er coun­tries. The Unit­ed States deport­ed more than 100 peo­ple with Covid-19 to Guatemala, for exam­ple, between mid-March and mid-April. The U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice says it wasn’t aware of any report­ed cas­es of Covid-19 at North­west State Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty, but the Ver­mont Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions reports 45 pos­i­tive tests at the prison as of August 31. An admin­is­tra­tor at ICE’s Straf­ford Coun­ty facil­i­ty reports two pos­i­tive cas­es as of August 12

Whether Mar­tinez con­tract­ed Covid while impris­oned in the Unit­ed States, on the forced jour­ney to Mex­i­co, or while in Mex­i­co, Migrant Jus­tice believes the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Mar­tinez con­tract­ed Covid out­side the Unit­ed States does not absolve ICE nor the Ver­mont State Police. 

Migrant Jus­tice holds ICE respon­si­ble for Durvi’s death, even if they didn’t con­tract Covid in deten­tion,” Lam­bek says. Both the con­di­tions of deten­tion and their depor­ta­tion cer­tain­ly led to their con­trac­tion of the dis­ease and, ulti­mate­ly, their death. And to the extent that Ver­mont State Police were proac­tive­ly involved in alert­ing ICE to Durvi’s arrest and trans­fer­ring Durvi to ICE’s cus­tody, in vio­la­tion of their own pol­i­cy — that cul­pa­bil­i­ty extends to the state police as well.” 

Arvind Dilawar is an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose work has appeared in Newsweek and Vice.

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