Immigration Equality frequently hears from LGBTQ people who face unique difficulties while detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigration Equality’s detained clients have been verbally and sexually harassed, insulted , and even assaulted because of their sexual orientation or transgender status.  Below you will find a list of most frequently asked questions involving detention for our community.

Can I visit someone in detention?

Only if you are lawfully present in the United States should you try to visit someone in detention. This does not mean that you must be a citizen or a green card holder, but you should have some form of currently valid immigration status at the time you visit a detainee. A detention center will likely deny your visit request unless you can show valid I.D. and offer proof that you are lawfully in the United States. More importantly, people without valid immigration status who try to visit someone may themselves be detained.

Different detention centers have different visitation policies. Commonly, detainees are allowed a limited number of visitors during visiting hours on certain days of the week. Some, but not many, detention centers allow “contact visits,” where you are permitted to meet with the detainee in the same room and hug, hold hands, and have other limited physical contact with them. However, more often, visitors are permitted only “non-contact” visits in which they must talk through plexiglass windows, or by videophone. You should contact the detention center to find out which type of visit you will be allowed to have.

One common visitation policy at detention centers is to schedule visiting hours for detainees based on the first letter of the detainee’s last name. Before visiting a detainee, you should make certain you know the official name under which the person is registered at the detention center. If the detained person used a different name or if the detention center misspelled their name in the computer, you may be denied access if you visit on a day that the officers say does not match the detainee’s name.

LGBTQ detainees who fear sexual or physical violence in detention are commonly placed in a form of solitary confinement known as “administrative segregation” or “protective custody,” either automatically or by the request of the detainee. Transgender detainees are especially likely to be housed in “administrative segregation” because ICE officials don’t know how to safely house them in the general population. Detention centers generally place further restrictions on visiting policy for detainees in administrative segregation, which can severely limit how often and for how long you will be allowed to meet.

How does ICE decide with whom to house a transgender person?

Transgender immigrants are among those most routinely subjected to solitary confinement in immigration detention. Because ICE detention facilities almost invariably house transgender detainees by sex assigned at birth, they are often singled out for abuse when housed with the general population. For transgender women in particular, this means a heightened risk of sexual assault in detention.

Detention centers have often sought to mitigate the risk to transgender detainees by housing them in isolating forms of administrative segregation that are harmful to their mental and physical health. Detainees are placed in a small cell for up to 23 hours per day, for weeks or even months at a time. They commonly lack access to services and programs, external support systems, or any human interaction. Their extraordinary isolation acts as a barrier to access counsel, which deprives them of representation that could help them put an end to their solitary confinement. It is psychologically damaging and exacerbates the fear and anxiety felt by a sometimes already traumatized group. Often, the fear of mistreatment in detention leaves transgender individuals with the bleak choice of enduring months of isolation, harassment, and assault in detention, or giving up and accepting deportation to a country where they fear persecution and torture.

I am currently detained in Texas, far away from my family, friends, and networks of support in New York. Is there any way I can request a transfer to a detention facility in New York so that my immigration court hearings can take place there?

You or your attorney may request a change in venue, and an immigration court may grant or deny your request. In deciding whether or not to grant the change in venue, the court may consider many factors, including the location of family, the attorney working on your case, or witnesses and other evidence.  If most or all of these things are in a different state or city, the court is more likely to grant the change in venue.

To obtain a change in venue, your attorney must submit a motion to the court that lists the address of where you are detained, and the reason why you are seeking the change in venue. Some judges regularly grant these motions and others regularly deny them.

My client is a transgender woman who needs a bra. Is she entitled to have one?

One of the indignities of housing transgender women in male facilities is that they are often not given appropriate undergarments. When an individual enters immigration detention, they are stripped of their own clothes and given jumpsuits, socks, underwear and provided with some personal hygiene products like soap and a towel. Some transgender women may need a bra, but are often told they cannot get one or that they must pay for the bra themselves. Similarly, transgender men who ordinarily bind their chests may not be permitted to do so.

My partner is a transgender man who was not taking hormones before being detained. Can he get them now?

Detention facilities have an obligation to provide medically necessary treatment to the detainees in their custody. Nonetheless, medical staff at detention facilities very rarely screen for or evaluate the need for transition-related care, such as hormone therapy.  Some facilities will provide hormone therapy to individuals who can prove that they already had a prescription for the treatment prior to being detained.  However, this is certainly not always the case.

What should I do if a loved one is being treated badly while in ICE detention?

Any incident of abuse, harassment or mistreatment should be reported immediately. Visit this portion of our website to link to the complaint process.