NCTE Continues Call For Release of LGBT Immigrants Despite New ICE Policy
Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued new guidance on detaining transgender immigrants. While acknowledging the extraordinary vulnerability of trans people to sexual assault in detention, the new ICE memo does little to respond to the case being made by LGBT advocates and members of Congress that immigration detention itself is rarely necessary and that LGBT people are simply too vulnerable to detain. And while the new measures, if implemented, would reduce some of the harms of detention, this is not the first time that ICE has announced policies to ensure “better detention” for transgender immigrants.
The ICE memo largely reiterates existing ICE policies that call for staff training, identifying trans immigrants during intake processing, making individualized detention placements, and providing access to hormone medications, but sets for new processes intended to ensure they are carried out. According to the memo issued by Thomas Homan, Executive Associate Director of ICE, the agency will be updating its data systems to record an individual’s gender identity and transgender status for the purpose of detention and placement decisions.
ICE will also be asking a handful of local or for-profit jails to enter voluntary contract modifications that would include transgender-only housing units and other steps such as using gender-affirming names and pronouns for detainees. These segregated units in a few detention centers, which may be located far from family and attorneys, are how ICE says it may now begin to detain some trans women alongside other women—something it should have been doing under prior policies but never did. The memo focuses only on transgender immigrants, and includes no new steps to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual immigrants who also face high rates of sexual abuse in confinement.
Transgender people are at a high risk of facing sexual assault and violence in confinement institutions—according to the Department of Justice, one-third of trans people in jails or prisons nationwide report being sexually abused in the last year. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that, while ICE’s reporting systems were flawed and many reported assaults were not properly investigated, 1 in 5 substantiated cases of sexual assault in ICE custody involved a transgender victim.
While we welcome any step that will bring even small relief to the hundreds of LGBT immigrants at risk in detention centers every day, previous ICE policies on LGBT people have not lead to meaningful change. We believe the fundamental question the government must answer is: Why detain so many vulnerable people, at such great risk and cost, in the first place? There are far better ways to make sure people show up to immigration court. We agree with the New York Times editorial board, which in May wrote that immigration detention “breeds cruelty and harm, and squanders taxpayer money.” Scaling back this system should start with the most vulnerable people, including LGBT people.
The National Center for Transgender Equality will continue to work with our allies around the country to press the Obama Administration and Congress to move away from needless and costly mass detention of immigrants, and to pass comprehensive immigration reform.