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Monday, May 23, 2016

ICE to Warehouse Trans Immigrants in Texas Despite Calls for Release

Fusion reported today that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will open a new “Prairieland Detention Facility" in rural Texas this fall and will send transgender women to a special unit there. The new private, for-profit prison will hold 700 immigrants awaiting civil court hearings, including 36 trans women. NCTE joins other advocates in denouncing this plan and calling for ICE to stop jailing vulnerable immigrants, including those who are LGBT.

The new “Prairieland” facility, slated to open in November, is in the small city of Alvaredo, 40 miles from Dallas. There are few, if any, supports for trans immigrants released into this rural community, making its construction increasingly problematic. Just as concerning to advocates, Texas sits in the fifth federal judicial circuit, which is notorious for legal precedents that are particularly hostile to asylum seekers. Many LGBT immigrants are survivors of physical and sexual violence who are seeking asylum from anti-LGBT persecution in Central America and elsewhere.

NCTE and a broad coalition of local, state, and national advocates have been pressing ICE, which falls under Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s authority, to take action for years. In March, 36 members of the House and Senate sent a letter to Sec. Johnson urging him to use the full extent of his discretion to keep vulnerable LGBT immigrants out of immigration detention centers. DHS policy already calls for avoiding the detention of certain vulnerable populations, such as those who are pregnant, elderly, or have disabilities. A group of House members sent a similar letter last summer, and NCTE has also participated in briefings on this issue on Capitol Hill.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch found widespread abuse in interviews with dozens of transgender women detained by ICE, including sexual harassment and assault, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement. ICE has said for years that it is addressing transgender people’s needs by making detention centers safer, but these steps have been consistently criticized as inadequate. Last year, ICE announced it would protect transgender immigrants by warehousing them in a few designated centers across the country, which fails to address the abuse that transgender detainees have consistently reported from ICE officers.

The recent Congressional letter also called attention to a 2015 report that found that ICE officers regularly ignored their own risk assessments and detained LGBT immigrants who could have been released pending a court date. It asks ICE to provide answers on how it is preventing this from happening in the future, and how it will implement its current policies to ensure that trans detainees are not transferred away from family or attorneys against their will.

Federal studies have shown for years that LGBT people are at extremely high risk as targets of sexual abuse and other forms of violence in detention centers. More than a third of trans people behind bars are sexually abused each year.

Keeping some of the people most endangered by detention out of it would be a sensible first step toward dramatically shrinking the $2 billion ICE detention system.

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