By Tom Dart | February 6, 2017
Prairieland immigration facility reserves 36 beds for transgender inmates who are more likely to face abuse, but advocates worry about isolation and quality of care
During the week of the inauguration of a president whose policies will lead to a sharp increase in migrant arrests, America’s newest immigrant detention centre opened in rural north Texas.
Known as Prairieland, it has an unusual feature designed to protect an especially vulnerable section of the population: a unit for transgender detainees. Some LGBT advocates, though, question whether holding transgender people in a detached pod in a remote location will do more harm than good.
The privately run centre 40 miles from Dallas stands as a monument to the Obama administration’s commitment to migrant detention, a practice it reinforced from 2014 as the southern border saw a surge in crossings by families and unaccompanied minors seeking to escape danger in troubled central American nations.
In fiscal year 2014, government figures show, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took 425,728 non-citizens into custody, up from about 85,000 almost two decades earlier.
Amid longstanding concern from human rights groups about the practice and the conditions inside the facilities – exacerbated by worries that the new administration will not be sympathetic to LGBT people – attention has increased on the treatment of transgender inmates. Human Rights Watch last year published a 68-page report detailing instances of abuse suffered by transgender women, many held in men’s facilities and in solitary confinement, already traumatised by abuse in their home countries that prompted them to seek safety in the US.