Transgender activist who fought to abolish ICE honored with 2024 RFK Human Rights award

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A transgender woman fighting to shut down U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention centers is this year’s recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award — an honor bestowed by the advocacy group meant to carry on RFK’s legacy and founded by his daughter, Kerry Kennedy. 

Arely Westley, an LGBTQ+ and immigration activist who identifies as a “trans-Latinx woman,” will be the 41st recipient of the award, which was announced over the weekend. The organization said Westley will be recognized during an official ceremony in June.

The Human Rights award “honors an individual or group of individuals who stand up to oppression at grave personal risk in the nonviolent pursuit of human rights,” according to its website.

Westley is the first transgender woman to receive the award, the organization confirmed to Fox News Digital.

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Kerry Kennedy speaks during the 2021 RFK Ripple Of Hope Gala at the New York Hilton Midtown on Dec. 9, 2021 in New York City. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

“From her anti-detention work to her support of LGBTQ+ youth, Arely is a true force for social justice,” Kerry Kennedy said over the weekend. “The difference between a victim and a hero is activism with a loving heart. Arely has used her personal experiences to fuel her advocacy and build a better, more just world. We are honored to recognize her efforts and continue working alongside her.”

Westley, a Honduras native, was detained in 2022 at the Central Louisiana ICE Processing Center. Once released, RFK Human Rights claims Westley began leading “multiple shutdown campaigns,” calling for the closure of ICE detention facilities that have a “history of documented abuse.” According to RFK Human Rights, Westley suffered “egregious human rights violations” and was held in solitary confinement for extra protection. 

Westley currently serves as a campaign director at BreakOUT!, an organization that seeks to “end the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth who are directly impacted by the criminal or juvenile justice system in New Orleans.”

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Transgender flag gender affirming care

A transgender flag unfurled on a pole.  (Getty Images)

“I feel honored to accept this award on behalf of my trans community, standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, who were indigenous to these lands now known as the Americas, where today my trans Latina sisters and I are vilified, caged, and abused,” Westley said in a statement. “But these systems of dehumanizing greed have grossly underestimated us. We are the flowering buds whose deep roots break through the concrete that those in power deign to walk all over, but our beauty, love and brilliance cannot be and we will not be denied.”

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US ICE

The sign of The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building is seen in Washington D.C. on Jan. 5, 2023.  (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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According to its website, RFK Human Rights advocates “for human rights issues and pursues strategic litigation to hold governments accountable at home and around the world.”

“We foster a social good approach to business, celebrate agents of change, and to ensure change that lasts, we educate millions of students about human rights, training the next generation of leaders,” the website reads.

Previous laureates include Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis, who advocated for peace in Liberia (1999), Kenyan war prisoner Gibson Kamau Kuria (1988), Chinese activist against the communist party and physicist, Fang Lizhi (1989), Brazilian activist for the poor and former seminarian Darci Frigo (2001), among others.

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