by Carrie Maxwell | August 12th, 2015
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, hosted a briefing on transgender immigrants in custody Aug. 5 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington D.C. The briefing, which was open to congressional staff and members, comes on the heels of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ( ICE ) announcement this past June of new guidance concerning transgender detainees.
Prior to the release of the new ICE guidelines, Grijalva and 34 other representatives ( including U. S. Reps. Mike Quigley, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky ) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson calling on ICE to limit the use of detention for LGBT immigrants.
In part, the letter reads, “Detention should almost never be used for vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants facing immigration proceedings. Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to ten times the rate of heterosexual men. The situation is starker for transgender detainees.”
Sharita Gruberg ( Center for American Progress senior policy analyst ) and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan ( National Center for Transgender Equality policy advisor for racial and economic justice initiative ) provided attendees with an introduction to immigration detention for LGBT individuals.
“Our immigration detention system is enormous and the number of people we detain is driven more by congress’s bed quota and the profit-motives of private prisons such as the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group,” said Gruberg in a statement to Windy City Times. “The result is even though this is a civil detention system meant only to ensure individuals appear at their immigration court hearings, we detain twice as many people each day as we did in 1998. Unlike the criminal justice system where 20-45 percent of people awaiting trial are in jail, ICE jails 91.4 percent of immigrants that it processes.”
“For LGBT immigrants, who are at particularly high risk of abuse and are frequently seeking protection from persecution in the U.S., ICE’s presumption of detention, in over 2/3 of intakes even though 70 percent could be released according to their automated system, is not only a waste of resources, it’s extremely dangerous.”
Clement Lee, Esq. ( Immigration Equality detention staff attorney ), gave an overview of the ICE memo as well as policy solutions and issues surrounding expansion of detention facilities.
Lee said to WCT, “Immigration detention is a fundamentally unsafe place for LGBT people. If ICE cannot safely detain LGBT people in its custody, then it should not detain them at all.”
“Immigration Equality applauds the government for taking steps to rethink its practices in detaining transgender people, as outlined in its recent memo. Studies show that transgender women confined in male facilities are 13 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault. The most humane, cost-effective and common-sense option is for ICE to release transgender people from detention. Simple strategies such as scheduled check-ins and community supervision programs are �immensely effective in ensuring that LGBT immigrants show up for their immigration hearings.” �
Lee went on to say, “It’s disturbing that ICE has reportedly selected the Adelanto Detention Facility in rural Southern California as a site for a transgender-only housing unit. Housing transgender women in a detention facility in the Mojave Desert—a four-hour round trip from Los Angeles—isolates them from community support and access to counsel who can help them meaningfully present their claims to a judge. Without attorneys, these individuals are six times more likely to be ordered removed to a country where they fear persecution and torture on account of their gender identity.”