Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Trans Lifeline co-founder released from ICE detention


Nina Chaubal, left, and Greta Gustava Martela. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
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Immigration officials have released the co-founder of the nonprofit Trans Lifeline from custody after a harrowing six-day stay in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Arizona.

Nina Chaubal, 25, posted $4,500 bond, which represented less than half the money raised in 24 hours via a crowdfunding campaign. The remainder will be used to pay for related legal expenses.

Chaubal, a trans woman who co-founded Trans Lifeline in San Francisco in 2013, was detained December 28 after immigration officials interrogated her at a checkpoint in Wellton, Arizona and learned that she was not a U.S. citizen. Many vehicles are routinely stopped to determine if everyone traveling is a U.S. citizen, a practice that is allowed under Arizona law, according to Andre Perez, Trans Lifeline's director of communications.

ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Chaubal, who was travelling with her wife, Greta Gustava Martela, 47, also a trans woman, and other friends, was locked up when immigration authorities learned that her visa had expired and that her application for a green card was still pending, Perez said in a telephone interview.

Chaubal and Martela were driving to Chicago, where they now live, after visiting California to research new locations for the agency, which has provided peer support for thousands of transgender people over the past two and a half years, Perez said.

Originally from India, Chaubal came to the U.S. on a student visa and later got her H1B, a visa for foreign workers employed in the U.S., when she was offered a job at Google, said Perez. When she left Google to organize the Trans Lifeline, Chaubal and Martela married. But Chaubal ran into a stumbling block while gathering documents for her green card application because she couldn't locate Martela's divorce decree, which had been lost by government officials. Martela had been married to someone who has since died, Perez said. The divorce decree is apparently necessary for green card approval, said Perez.

Immigration officials took Chaubal to an ICE detention center in Eloy, Arizona, a privately run for-profit prison about two hours away from Wellton, where Martela waited in a motel.

According to Perez, the Eloy facility has received national press attention for its "poor treatment" of detainees.

Chaubal remained in custody until January 3, when she posted bond. She and Martela were expected back in Chicago in a day or two, Perez said. The funds raised in the crowdfunding campaign will be used to hire an experienced immigration attorney, who will explore available options. The Arizona case has been transferred to Illinois, according to Perez.

In addition to their successful fundraising campaign, Perez said that over 6,000 emails were sent by Chaubal's supporters, urging the government to release her. "We believe the support helped expedite the case and keep the bail relatively low," said Perez.

Commenting on the situation in an email to the Bay Area Reporter, Flor Bermudez, detention project director at the Transgender Law Center, wrote, "Nina's case is not typical. Most transgender women in immigration detention have been caught at the border while fleeing persecution or have been illegally profiled for behaviors they engaged in to survive.

"There are currently over 40 transgender immigrants in detention who have yet to be visited by a lawyer, let alone a community member," Bermudez added. "Criminalization and selective enforcement targeting transgender immigrants is a widespread crisis, and we cannot lose sight of the inhumanity of our immigration detention system and the toll it continues to take on transgender people and our families. We must advocate for the release of all trans women from detention."

In a Facebook post January 4, Chaubal wrote: "Through my time being detained by ICE, they treated me and the other detainees like criminals. The more they did that, the less I felt like a criminal, the more I felt like I was a leader of the resistance being held by a bunch of fascists and that the resistance was going to get me out.

"Today I got to see how much my community has my back and it touched my heart. I love you all so much," Chaubal added. "I'm crying, but not because of what they did to me. It's tears of joy seeing what all of you did for me."


To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign, visit


In the U.S., the Trans Lifeline number is (877) 565-8860; in Canada it's (877) 330-6366. For information about volunteering for the lifeline, visit class=apple-converted-space>


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