Tania, a transgendered woman, was repeatedly beaten and abused in her home country of Guatemala. She fled to the U.S., where she was locked in an all-male ICE detention center and harassed by officials and detainees almost daily for 10 months.
Attorneys with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project helped Tania represent herself in court. “She gave great testimony, which we helped her prepare, about what had happened to her – severe beatings and terrible stuff,” says Lauren Dasse, executive director of the Florence Project. The judge granted Tania protection under the United Nations Convention against Torture.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision on gay marriage has turned attention toward the plight of LGBT immigrants like Tania.
Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender woman, interrupted President Obama during a White House pride celebration on June 24 to demand he “release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” A week later, six immigrant rights activists were arrested for blocking a street near the White House to protest the treatment of LGBT detainees.
Thirty-five congresspeople sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson stating, “[W]e strongly urge you to use existing discretion to release LGBT individuals from custodial detention and use parole or alternatives to detention to ensure the safety and appearance of this group…”
The letter also highlighted surprising statistics. In custody, non-heterosexual men are subjected to sexual assault at 10 times the rate of heterosexual men. One in three transgender individuals is sexually assaulted within one year of custody.
The ACLU of Arizona has documented several cases where LGBT detainees suffered physical and sexual violence, received inadequate medical care, and were placed in isolation if they complained. In addition, LGBT immigrants complained that ICE officials divulged their confidential information and housed them with detainees of a gender with which they don’t identify.
As we have reported before, immigration detention is traumatizing, expensive, and especially harmful to vulnerable people including women, children and LGBT individuals. Alternatives to detention are highly effective in ensuring immigrants attend their court dates, and would help protect these already harassed and abused people from further suffering.