California’s Adelanto Detention Facility is being expanded to house more immigrant detainees. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
Immigrants’ rights activists are urging President Obama to protect transgender women by keeping them out of the remote facility.
By Rebecca McCray | August 26, 2015
When attorney Keren Zwick drove two and a half hours northeast of Los Angeles through the California desert in April to visit an immigrant client in detention, she found the entire Adelanto Detention Facility under construction. Zwick, who works as managing attorney for a Chicago-based advocacy group, the National Immigrant Justice Center, had heard rumors in the immigration community that Immigration and Customs Enforcement might be expanding the detention center. When she casually asked a worker why it was under construction, he confirmed what no one in the advocacy community wanted to hear: The expansion was intended to accommodate the transfer of several detainee populations, one of which would be transgender women.
Adelanto Detention Facility is run by GEO Group, the second-largest private corrections and detention company in the U.S. The company has been the target of hundreds of lawsuits, which allege GEO Group is responsible for neglecting and abusing inmates and detainees, denying medical care, and discrimination. This is one reason advocates are concerned about the possibility of transferring a large number of transgender women—a uniquely vulnerable subgroup—to Adelanto. The remote location is another concern. “Facilities like Adelanto are so geographically isolated that women have no access to counsel, friends, and family, and virtually no oversight,” Aaron Morris, legal director of advocacy organization Immigration Equality, told TakePart.
Transgender women suffer sexual assault while detained at nine to 10 times the rate of all detained people, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Transgender detainees comprise a small segment of the detained immigrant population but make up one in five confirmed cases of sexual abuse in ICE custody. This heightened vulnerability makes detention for transgender women particularly dangerous and sometimes deadly.