Last week, 35 members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calling for sharp limits on the use of detention of LGBTQ immigrants due to their vulnerability to sexual assault. On Monday, June 29, 2015, DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued guidance on the detention of transgender non-citizens.
“The Transgender Care Memorandum reaffirms ICE’s commitment to provide a safe, secure, and respectful environment for all those in our custody, including those individuals who identify as transgender,” said ICE ERO Executive Assistant Director Thomas Homan. “We want to make sure our employees have the tools and resources available to learn more about how to interact with transgender individuals and ensure effective standards exist to house and care for them throughout the custody cycle.”
The memorandum addressed various elements of custody with regard to the treatment of transgender individuals, including:
Data Systems: appropriate data systems will be updated to record an individual’s gender identity, assisting the agency in data collection and informed decision-making.
Identification and Processing: comprehensive officer training and tools will be provided to ensure an individual’s gender identity can be identified early in the custodial life cycle to ensure care in accordance with the new guidance.
Housing Placements: the memorandum includes a voluntary ICE detention facility Contract Modification that calls for the formation of a facility-based multidisciplinary Transgender Care Classification Committee that will be responsible for making decisions related to searches, clothing options, housing assignments, medical care, and housing reassessments for transgender individuals.
Additionally, ICE announced the designation of a new National ERO Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Coordinator and each of the 24 ERO Field Offices will also designate local LGBTI Field Liaisons who will serve as resources for officers.
The National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Immigrant Justice Center, United We Dream, Immigration Equality, and the Human Rights Campaign issued a joint statement welcoming the developments, but requested more from ICE.
“We stress that the core question here is why so many vulnerable people are imprisoned by ICE in the first place to await immigration court hearings,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “Earlier this week, the Secretary of DHS stated that the detention of women and children who are seeking asylum was an inappropriate use of agency resources; for LGBTQ individuals, the same logic applies. This community is at the highest risk of rape and assault, and for most there is no compelling reason to justify their detention. Indeed, a recent Center for American Progress report shows that ICE routinely detains LGBTQ immigrants who it knows are at great risk and should not be behind bars.”
The groups plan to continue pressuring DHS and ICE to move away from “the needless, costly, and dangerous policy of mass detention.”
“ICE’s guidelines finally acknowledges what we’ve known for a long time: transgender people cannot be held safely in detention,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Racial and Economic Justice Initiative Policy Advisor at NCTE. “Though the guidance represents a significant improvement in how transgender immigration detainees will be treated, ICE’s record on implementing guidance such as this is mixed. To really end the suffering transgender detainees face, the Obama Administration must release transgender detainees for whom being in detention makes them a target of sexual assault and violence.”