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Quigley Leads House Letter Calling for End to Transgender Migrant Detention

Jan 14, 2020
Press Release

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Vice Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and a founding Member of the Transgender Equality Task Force, led over forty members of Congress in calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release all transgender individuals currently in detention. LGBTQ immigrants are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized in detention than straight and cis-gender immigrants and at least two transgender women, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and Johana Medina León, died in ICE custody.

“Immigrants who have faced fear and violence in their pursuit of a new life in the United States should not be confronted with more fear and threats of violence when they arrive at our borders. Unfortunately, too often, that is exactly what many transgender immigrants face when placed in ICE detention facilities,” said Quigley. “Trans men and women experience a higher threat of sexual violence and are too frequently placed in solitary confinement. If ICE cannot provide appropriate and humane accommodations for these migrants, they must release them from detention. No one else should have to lose their lives because of ICE’s cruel mismanagement.”

The recently enacted FY2020 Appropriations package includes instructions for ICE to only detain transgender individuals in facilities specifically contracted for their care. Currently, no ICE facilities meet these standards. Quigley and the letter’s other signers, including House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (NM-03), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler (NY-10), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), are demanding that ICE immediately bring facilities detaining transgender individuals into compliance or ensure the release of their transgender detainees. The members have requested a response, including a detailed plan for addressing this issue, no later than January 27, 2020.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement has consistently failed to provide humanitarian or even basic care for transgender individuals in their care. These individuals are subjected to violence and sexual assault at disproportionately high rates and a lack of competent care has even led to the death of two trans women, including one woman, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, in New Mexico. If ICE and the Trump administration cannot care for the individuals in their facilities with dignity, respect, and humanitarian care, they must release these individuals to avoid subjecting them to continued harm,” said Luján.

“For too long, immigration detention has been overly harsh, callous, and punitive toward migrants generally, and transgender individuals in particular,” said Chairman Nadler. “Unfortunately, transgender migrants are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, physical and mental abuse, and medical neglect while in ICE detention. Rather than protect this vulnerable population, ICE detains them and places them at risk of abuse, medical neglect, and sexual harassment in ICE custody.  Congress recognized that these inhumane conditions were unacceptable when it passed the FY 2020 Appropriations package, and ICE must take immediate action to protect vulnerable populations in its custody and find safe and suitable alternatives to detention.”

“The deaths of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and Johana Medina León stand as shocking examples of the consequences for the mistreatment and negligence that LGBTQ immigrants endure in ICE custody. These facilities are not prepared to ensure that vulnerable migrants, especially transgender individuals, are safe from violence and abuse while in their custody, nor are they prepared to provide necessary medical care. In fact, many facilities resort to solitary confinement rather than improve conditions in custody,” said Congressman Castro. “As Chair of the Hispanic Caucus, I’m working to hold ICE accountable and have already requested that the Homeland Security Inspector General launch an investigation into ICE for Roxsana’s death. Transgender immigrants cannot be safely detained by ICE under current standards - not one more life should be lost due to this agency’s negligence.”

The National Immigrant Justice Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Immigration Equality, Detention Watch Network, and Los Angeles LGBT Center have all endorsed the letter.

“My client Kelly has been suffering in a remote immigration jail for more than two years, including months in solitary confinement solely because of her gender identity. Kelly is one of dozens of transgender immigrants who needlessly endure the indignities and brutalities of immigration detention day in and day out. We are grateful to Congressman Quigley and the other Members of Congress speaking out today against ICE’s continued abusive and unnecessary jailing of trans immigrants,” said Tania Linares Garcia, Senior Attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The full text of the letter is available here, including the full list of co-signers, and below.

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence,

We write to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stop placing transgender individuals at risk of sexual abuse and assault in ICE custody. 

The explanatory statement accompanying the just-enacted FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act instructs as follows: “ICE must limit the detention of transgender people to facilities subject to a contract formally modified pursuant to Attachment 1 of the June 19, 2015 ICE memo entitled Further Guidance Regarding the Care of Transgender Individuals.” It is our understanding that no existing ICE detention contract has been formally modified per the 2015 memo; as such, ICE is obligated to immediately bring facilities detaining such individuals into compliance through formal contract modification. If ICE cannot provide a safe environment for transgender individuals in its custody by making such contract modifications, it must immediately arrange for release for transgender individuals at risk of sexual abuse and assault in ICE custody and ensure that such individuals have access to a safe environment and appropriate care upon release.

In the United States and around the world, transgender individuals face persecution that ranges from physical and sexual violence to other forms of mistreatment based on their gender identity and expression. This already vulnerable population faces a heightened and unique set of injustices while in immigration detention. Transgender migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, solitary confinement, physical assault, and medical neglect. These inhumane conditions and systematic abuses are evidenced in countless reports and accounts by formally detained people.

The pervasive use of solitary confinement has caused particular harm to transgender migrants in detention. ICE consistently utilizes solitary confinement for so-called protective purposes or violates its own guidance by using segregation as punishment, placing transgender people at risk of physical and mental health deterioration and vulnerability to sexual assault by ICE guards.

LGBTQ migrants in detention are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized than their cis-gender and straight counterparts in detention. Last year at Cibola County Correctional Center, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman-seeking asylum in the U.S., died of HIV-related complications. A little over a year after Roxsana’s death, Johana Medina León, another asylum seeking transgender woman, died in a hospital in El Paso, Texas, shortly after being released from ICE custody. Johana requested medical attention while in custody, but was denied medical care by ICE, until her condition worsened. Each day that ICE continues to detain transgender people is a day that the health and well-being of those individuals is at risk.

We ask that you honor the longstanding reputation of the United States as a refuge for individuals who face persecution and adhere to the Congressional directives regarding the treatment of transgender people in the statement accompanying the FY2020 Spending Bill. The United States is bound by domestic and international law to protect—not punish—vulnerable populations escaping from persecution. We demand that ICE abide by these laws by immediately bringing facilities detaining transgender individuals into compliance, and by arranging for release for transgender individuals at risk of sexual abuse and assault in ICE custody.  ICE should also ensure that such individuals have access to a safe environment and appropriate care upon release.

We request a detailed plan, by January 27, 2020, for how ICE will comply with this requirement and semi-monthly reporting to demonstrate such compliance.