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Amid Coronavirus Concerns, Quigley Calls for Release of LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers

Jun 10, 2020
Press Release

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf calling for the release of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers currently detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Quigley has previously called for the release of LGBTQ+ detainees due to the continued inability of ICE to properly care for these individuals. His current letter criticizes their failure to act and again calls for the release of detainees in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

ICE has demonstrated an ongoing inability to properly care for and protect LGBTQ+ individuals in their custody. This failure has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, leading detainees to come forward with serious concerns for their health and safety. LGBTQ+ asylum seekers already face discrimination and a lack of appropriate medical care. Since the beginning of the global pandemic, asylum seekers have disclosed that ICE routinely ignores CDC guidance, failing to provide protective gear and hygiene products and disregarding social distancing recommendations.

Quigley wrote, “the COVID-19 outbreak makes the situation in ICE detention even more dangerous for individuals in the agency’s custody, including LGBTQ individuals. It is widely reported that ICE does not provide sufficient protective gear or hygiene products, fails to provide timely information on how to prevent infection, and is either unable or unwilling to implement social distancing measures.”

In the letter, Quigley and 25 additional members urge ICE to release all LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and raise specific concerns about the case of Yanelkys Moreno-Agramonte, lesbian asylum seeker from Cuba who has a credible claim for asylum and poses no threat to public safety or national security.

“Detaining LGBTQ asylum seekers, especially in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, is dangerous and irrational,” the members wrote.

The text of the letter is included below, and a PDF copy is available HERE.

We are deeply concerned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE’s”) continued refusal to release lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (“LGBTQ”) asylum seekers from ICE custody as COVID-19 ravages detention facilities across the country. LGBTQ asylum seekers, like Yanelkys Moreno-Agramonte are terrified for their safety due to ICE’s wholly inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fear is heightened for LGBTQ individuals who are already particularly vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment in immigration detention. Individuals like Ms. Moreno-Agramonte have a credible claim for asylum, pose no threat to public safety or national security, and should be considered for release, as ICE considers measures to reduce its detained population during this pandemic.

Ms. Moreno-Agramonte is a lesbian from Cuba who, together with her partner, fled homophobic persecution in search of safety in the United States. However, instead of finding protection, Ms. Moreno-Agramonte was separated from her partner and placed in immigration detention, where she remains today. Ms. Moreno-Agramonte is eligible for release on parole, has a qualifying sponsor, and poses no risk to the community. Nevertheless, ICE refuses to release her, even amid a lethal pandemic.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, claiming thousands of lives, ICE has proven itself incapable of protecting the people in its custody, routinely ignoring CDC guidelines and ICE’s own Pandemic Response Requirements. LGBTQ asylum seekers were at particular risk in detention even before COVID-19. They frequently face discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as lack of appropriate HIV and other medical care. As you may know, LGBTQ individuals are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population in detention facilities.

The COVID-19 outbreak makes the situation in ICE detention even more dangerous for individuals in the agency’s custody, including LGBTQ individuals. It is widely reported that ICE does not provide sufficient protective gear or hygiene products, fails to provide timely information on how to prevent infection, and is either unable or unwilling to implement social distancing measures. For instance, in March and in the beginning of April, Ms. Moreno-Agramonte reported that the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center (“South Louisiana”), where she is detained, experienced frequent shortages of sanitation products, including a nine-day period where Ms. Moreno-Agramonte and others went without toilet paper or soap. South Louisiana continues to mismanage its COVID-19 response today. In fact, social distancing is impossible in Ms. Moreno-Agramonte’s sleeping quarters and detention staff are not required to wear masks despite the extremely close quarters and rapid spread of the virus.

Tragically, COVID-19 has already claimed lives of two individuals in ICE custody. Moreover, ICE presently reports 1,181 COVID-19 cases among the detained population and an additional 44 cases among its detention employees. Due to insufficient availability of testing, the actual number is probably much higher. Health experts continue to warn that ICE detention facilities are woefully unprepared to treat patients who contract COVID-19. Despite ICE’s claims that it has taken measures to protect the people in its custody, medical experts note that these measures are not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.[5] This means that the lives and safety of all detainees, including LGBTQ asylum seekers, are at risk as long as they remain in ICE custody.

Ms. Moreno-Agramonte’s detention and the risk it poses to her health, and others like her, is entirely avoidable. ICE has the discretion to release Ms. Moreno-Agramonte and almost all other LGBTQ asylums seekers from custody at any time. Inexplicably, ICE has not exercised that discretion, notwithstanding the fact that ICE has no reason to continue detaining Ms. Moreno-Agramonte and others raising similar, credible asylum claims.

Detaining LGBTQ asylum seekers, especially in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, is dangerous and irrational. LGBTQ asylum seekers, including Ms. Moreno-Agramonte, flee their countries of origin because they are targets for persecution simply for being who they are. Ms. Moreno-Agramonte is determined to see her asylum case to completion with the hope that she will achieve the life she was denied in Cuba. We believe that there is no justification for detaining her, especially when weighed against the risks to her health and safety in immigration detention. We urge ICE to consider, within all applicable rules and regulations, releasing Ms. Moreno-Agramonte and all LGBTQ asylum seekers immediately.