Our latest update in this ongoing saga comes from the hill linked below and beneath that, we’ll link you to more articles, piecing together a timeline of sorts.
House Democrats plan to call on a key immigration agency to release all transgender people who are currently being detained, arguing that the U.S. has failed to follow guidelines to protect individuals who face more perilous conditions in detention than other migrants.
“We write to demand the release of all transgender people currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” the letter to ICE is expected to say, according to an early copy obtained by The Hill.
“Transgender migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, solitary confinement, physical assault, and medical neglect. These inhumane conditions and systematic abuses are evidenced in countless reports and accounts by formally detained people,” continues the letter, which will be addressed to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting ICE Director Matthew Albence.
The letter cites research articles from the Human Rights Campaign, Amnesty International and the Center for American Progress in arguing that due to their gender identity, transgender migrants are more likely to face “the pervasive use of solitary confinement” and that they are “97 times more likely to be sexually victimized” compared to “their cis-gender and straight counterparts in detention.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who is leading the effort, circulated a letter to other Democratic colleagues last week seeking their signatures on his ICE letter, in which he argues there is a legal basis for releasing the transgender detainees.
The letter will make the case that ICE has yet to comply with the fiscal 2020 spending report, which includes language that dictates how the agency should handle the detention of transgender people.
He argues that since they have not followed such guidelines, ICE is “legally obligated to immediately release all transgender individuals currently in its custody.”
Democrats will argue that ICE has failed to comply with a 2015 ICE memo titled “Further Guidance Regarding the Care of Transgender Detainees,” in which the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations is directed to consider “initial placements for transgender people.”
Such places, according to the memo, include facilities that have incorporated modifications designed to improve transgender care, designated facilities with protective custody units for transgender detainees and facilities that have demonstrated “best practices in the care of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, or Intersex detainees” as it relates to medical care and personnel with sensitivity and awareness training. Transgender people can also make transfer requests as it relates to his or her transgender identifications.
Pictured are migrants detained at a unit dedicated for transgender women inside the Cibola County Correctional Center, which operates in part as an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. The migrants in that unit later penned a letter alleging the pictures show staged activities and are not a reflection of poor conditions they face. Photo credit: ICE
Two Arizona groups are asking the federal government to release all transgender migrants held in immigration detention centers, alleging they face “extreme danger” while in detention.
The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that provides lawyers to unaccompanied and separated migrant minors and migrant adults detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and the Kino Border Initiative, a humanitarian group that services migrants and deportees with food, shelter and other resources in Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, made the demand in a press release.
The groups said two transgender women, Alejandra from Mexico and Anahí from Honduras, have faced multiple assaults, insults and inadequate medical attention inside the Eloy Detention Center, located 65 miles south of Phoenix. The two women have lawyers through the Florence Project, which declined to disclose their full names.
Both women are seeking asylum, the groups said.
According to ICE, there were 145 self-identified transgender detainees in ICE custody being held in 32 different facilities, as of July 1. An ICE spokesperson did not provide a more up-to-date figures, and did not comment on the demand from the Arizona groups to release all the transgender people in its custody.
Most of ICE’s detention centers don’t have separate detention pods for transgender people, so trans women are often placed in all-male units. One detention center in rural New Mexico, the Cibola County Correctional Center, has a unit for transgender women. In South Texas, there’s an informal, temporary housing unit for transgender women.
In a press release, Laura St. John, legal director for the Florence Project, said their clients have described experiencing harassment, abuse and assault.
“Detaining transgender women with males puts the women in danger of harassment, abuse, and assault, as we have seen time and again with the experiences our clients have described,” she said. “Alejandra and Anahí have repeatedly told us that they do not feel safe and their experiences in detention have been detrimental to their physical and mental health.”
The Cibola County Correctional Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, is situated at the edge of Milan, New Mexico, about eighty miles west of Albuquerque. It sits behind a Shell gas station, cut off from the rest of town by a bend in I-40. Behind it lies an expanse of the New Mexican highlands, mostly yellow grass and rusted conifers. Cibola is the only ice facility in the country with a unit reserved exclusively for transgender women. The trans pod, as it’s known, opened in 2017, and can house up to sixty people, though the population is usually around half that. In late June, twenty-nine detainees in the pod sent an open letter to a Phoenix-based advocacy group, Trans Queer Pueblo, reporting deficient medical care in the facility and abuse by its staff. The letter, which was written in Spanish, said that the medical staff did not provide proper treatment to individuals who are H.I.V.-positive, disabled, or in need of routine medical treatment.
Most of the pod’s detainees signed the letter with their legal names—José, Gilberto, Edwin—and added their chosen names in parentheses—Yoselin, Ruby, Karla. Among the signatures was that of Alejandra Barrera. Barrera was one of the trans pod’s first detainees. At the time of the letter, Barrera had been inside for more than a year and a half, the longest a trans detainee had ever been held at Cibola. Trans migrants spend an average of ninety-nine days in ice custody, which is more than double the length of other migrants’ detentions, a Center for American Progress report found last year. The long detention periods are primarily a result of the fact that nearly all trans detainees apply for asylum and must wait for immigration judges to rule on their applications. Under the Trump Administration, growing backlogs in immigration courts have slowed this process further.
During Barrera’s initial asylum interview, a Department of Homeland Security official determined her to have a “credible fear” of persecution were she to return to her home country, El Salvador. Barrera also had a worsening medical condition, which was diagnosed when she arrived in detention. (She declined to specify for reasons of privacy.) Rebekah Wolf, one of Barrera’s attorneys, told me that the illness is chronic, negatively affects Barrera’s cognition, and, if left untreated, is likely fatal.