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Groups Demand Humane Treatment for LGBTs in Immigration Detention

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Wednesday December 10, 2014

This Human Rights Day, LGBT and human rights groups are calling for human treatment for LGBT people in immigration detention facilities in the United States. Groups like Immigration Equality and United We Dream are calling upon The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should end the use of prolonged solitary confinement immediately, especially as regards transgender women.

"Immigration Equality is outraged about the placement of transgender women in male facilities," said Caroline Dessert, Executive Director of Immigration Equality. "You cannot house a woman in a men's detention facility. If you do, she is likely to be raped. This fact is obvious to everyone, including the Department of Homeland Security. Yet DHS continues to put transgender women in men's facilities. It happens every single day. DHS must listen to the experts and use humane alternatives to detention."

Immigration Equality supports the United Nations Committee Against Torture recommendations on the treatment of vulnerable communities in immigration detention centers. They also back the United Nations in their declaration that solitary confinement is a form of torture.

Ninety percent of trans detainees are women trapped in prison cells with men. To prevent transgender women from being raped, DHS regularly confines them to prolonged solitary confinement -- up to 23 hours a day. They call this process 'administrative segregation' to distinguish it from solitary confinement, but it is difficult to discern any real difference between the two.

"About once a day, we get calls from trans women begging for help," said Aaron Morris, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. "DHS knows that it cannot detain transgender women safely. And so, it should not detain them at all. That is why we recommended expanding the use of community-based alternatives to detention. The U.S. government must also take immediate steps to prevent sexual assault in detention centers."

On December 10, the United Nations (UN) celebrates 64 years of their International Human Rights Day. The U.N. LGBTQ Core Groups, which include the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission along with many other groups, hosted an event, which supported all families and family members.

Dreamers and LGBTQ Immigrants rallied outside in solidarity with the U.N. to denounce the ICE and DHS use of solitary confinement tactics in immigration detention. Such tactics leave LGBTQ immigrants vulnerable to the inhumane and dysfunctional U.S. detention system.

Carlos Padilla, national coordinator of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, a program of United We Dream, said that we must continue to hold these organizations accountable for their negligence in protecting LGBTQ immigrants' human rights.

"It is on this day that we are reminded of our fundamental rights as humans to seek asylum from persecution in other countries," said Padilla. "We strive for the day when LGBTQ immigrants will not be subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, or degrading treatment, all which is clearly stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Regrettably, LGBTQ detainees continue to be subjected to inhumane conditions once placed in the dysfunctional detention system."

The use of solitary confinement, a tactic that the U.N has marked as torturous, is a disproportionately used on LGBTQ detainees under claims of protective custody. LGBTQ detainees continue to be 15 times more likely to fall victims of sexual assault by other detainees, and detention guards. The arbitrary detention placement of transgender immigrants in detention facilities based on anatomy instead of self-assessed gender continues to put the transgender immigrants at risk.

The constant denial of medical treatment for LGBTQ detainees, whether it be for HIV care or hormone treatment, is an ongoing use, which caused the death of Victoria Arellano, a beloved trans woman who died due to ICE denial of AIDS treatment, said Padilla.

"We will not rest until LGBTQ immigrants no longer have to live in fear of the threat of detention and deportation. Secretary Jeh Johnson from DHS must act on providing alternatives to detention and end LGBTQ detention once and for all," he concluded.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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