This week, U.S. immigration officials announced they are opening a new detention facility in Alvarado, Texas, which will have a unit devoted to housing transgender detainees. While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have tried to cast this as a positive development for transgender immigrants, this new center is yet another example of ICE failing to work with the transgender immigrant community and continuing dangerous policies that greatly harm transgender immigrants.
ICE has proven time and again, including with transgender detention units like the one planned in Alvarado, that it is incapable of detaining transgender immigrants in a safe and humane way.
Transgender Law Center calls on ICE to develop community-based alternatives to detention and use prosecutorial discretion to free transgender women from immigration detention — not build new facilities to incarcerate them.
Despite a memorandum issued by ICE last year intended to address the abuses faced by transgender immigrants, transgender women in detention continue to be housed with men, where they are subject to assault, or put in solitary confinement, which is a form of torture. The individuals housed in the transgender pod at Santa Ana are subjected to constant disregard and denial of their gender identity, verbal abuse, excessive use of isolation and lockdowns, unnecessary strip searches, and denial of medical care, including transition-related treatment.
ICE has failed to give transgender immigrants who have experience detention an opportunity to meet with DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, a request that has been public since Jennicet Gutierrez bravely interrupted President Obama to demand that ICE release all LGBTQ immigrants from immigration detention.
To truly address their violations of transgender immigrants’ human rights, DHS must:
- Adopt and immediately implement a policy against detaining transgender people. DHS cannot continue holding transgender immigrants in deplorable and inhumane conditions and wasting millions of dollars detaining a vulnerable population that is overwhelmingly eligible for relief.
- Rescind their failed U.S. ICE Memorandum: Further Guidance Regarding the Care of Transgender Detainees.
- Exercise prosecutorial discretion for all transgender asylum seekers who are recent arrivals to the United States and create an exception to mandatory detention. Transgender people who enter the country to seek political asylum should not be detained by ICE.
- Immediately and permanently close the Santa Ana transgender pod and cancel the Alvarado center, and give safe alternatives to detention for those transgender immigrants currently detained or referred by corrections systems. No other transgender pods should be used, as they have been proven to be grossly ineffective in keeping transgender immigrants safe.