In Case You Missed It: ICE Says It'll Start Housing Transgender Immigrants in Facility That Matches Gender Identity

Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday made public a new memorandum that says the agency will start housing transgender immigrants in the detention facilities that match their gender identity.

We very often see transgender women in male detention centers, even though taking notice of a person's gender identity is something ICE should have already been doing. According to several reports, even though one in 500 detainees is transgender, one in five has been sexually assaulted. (We have a case like that close to home.)

In the memo, dated June 19, ICE explains how to determine a detainee's gender identity, and based on that send them to the detention facility of the gender they identify with. ICE employees will be given coaching on what questions to ask and how to appropriately fill out documents—For instance, knowing the difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity. There will also be a data base where a person's gender identity will be updated for legal records. 

DHS says the memo follows a report from a group that took an in-depth look at these issues over the course of six months with experts of the subject. The agency also sought input from transgender individuals, "and visited various non-federal facilities across the country to observe best practices."

Advocacy groups such as the Transgender Law Center and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, who are part of the #Not1More campaign, argue the changes aren't enough and LGBT immigrants should be released from detention, period. "A guidance document cannot be expected to change the fact that DHS and ICE have consistently failed at maintaining a minimum of safety and dignity for transgender immigrants," the groups say in a statement. 

Also, the memo doesn't address other practices that have been denounced as inhumane, such as administrative segregation, "protective custody," or solitary confinement as "adequate" housing forms for transgender people. "Every one of these practices has failed to protect transgender immigrants, particularly women, from rape, sexual and physical abuse and dangerous living conditions in detention," the statement says. 

Here's the rest:
While we have an imperative to advance short and long term protections for LGBTQ people and all people in immigration detention, our experience with guidance documents such as these is that their implementation is inconsistent and with little oversight or accountability. In addition, this guidance still allows for practices that have been denounced as inhumane — including administrative segregation, ‘protective custody,’ and isolated pods — as adequate forms of housing for transgender individuals. Every one of these practices has failed to protect transgender immigrants, particularly women, from rape, sexual and physical abuse and dangerous living conditions in detention.

Lastly, it is extremely concerning that this guidance does not mandate that contracted detention facilities sign on to pre-existing protections such as to the Contract Modification for Transgender Care. This will result in a continuation of the practice of using isolation or inadequate GBT specific pods to detain transgender women.

Our communities, especially those most impacted, continue to mobilize and organize around a primary demand: end the detention and deportation system. In ICE’s brutal and unjust detention system, everyone of our loved ones is vulnerable. Trans women of color, like Jennicet Gutierrez, are on the frontlines fighting these injustices. We will continue to fight until the cruel practice of detention is ended and detainees are afforded long-term solutions regarding their residency, employment, and citizenship status.

Just last week 35 Congresspeople sent a letter to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, emphasizing our demand and asking for the release of LGBTQ immigrants. Elected officials see the urgency to hold ICE accountable for the continued torture, rape, and abuse that gender non-conforming people, transgender women and others face in detention centers, and the detention to deportation pipeline.

We will continue to organize and demand that President Obama’s administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement release LGBTQ immigrants from detention and end all immigrant detention as a crucial step in combating the criminalization faced by immigrants, Black people, other people of color, women and LGBTQ folks.”  
Last week, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and others members of Congress sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asking the agency to make significant changes of how it treats LGBT detainees, and to consider offering alternatives to detention.