On June 23, 2015, 35 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Secretary Johnson, calling on the Obama Administration to end the detention of LGBT immigrants in ICE custody, especially transgender women. The letter requested the administration seek parole and alternatives to detention for LGBT immigrants, including supervised release. These alternatives to the status quo are urgently needed because of every five victims of confirmed sexual abuse in ICE detention, one victim is transgender. This is a staggering statistic of victimhood for transgender individuals, especially when only around 75 trans persons are detained by ICE each day. While it does not need reminding, ICE is authorized to detain and house up to 34,000 immigrants in any given day.
The advocacy centered on LGBT immigrants is not an attempt to prefer LGBT detainees over the detainee population as a whole. The goal is ensure their safety while in the custody of the U.S. government and to drive the conversation of whether ICE/ERO can and should do better in releasing LGBT and non-LGBT detainees through alternatives to detention, instead of locking them up in jails for prolonged periods of time.
There are many arguments to be made as to why detention should be used sparingly. This includes the high cost of detaining individuals and the barriers created through the detention system for those who seek to find and hire a lawyer. However, the simple question remains: if a person is not a threat or a priority for removal and the person is likely to show up for an immigration hearing in the future, shouldn’t they be released?
In the context of LGBT immigrants, many flee their home countries due to persecution they have suffered on account of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They seek asylum in the U.S. to protect them from the harms suffered in their past or what awaits them if they are forced to return to a country that persecutes LGBT persons. Knowing why these LGBT individuals are present in the U.S. makes it extremely likely they will want to pursue their case in front of an immigration judge. Should LGBT immigrants benefit from some form of an alternative to detention, these LGBT immigrants would be safer, would be able to seek the help of family/friends, and would be able to find more resources to assist them in their legal cases. Most importantly, they would want to show up and fight their case in immigration court.
While there is much work to do surrounding the issue of LGBT detention, ICE/ERO recently announced that transgender women qualify to be housed in women’s detention facilities. Additionally, ICE/ERO will train its personnel to inquire about gender identity to determine how an immigrant identifies, if that person so chooses to disclose. While the impact of these trans-inclusive policies and the full implementation are yet to be seen, these actions do go a long way in the goal of ICE/ERO in providing “a respectful, safe, and secure environment for all detainees, including those individuals who identify as transgender.”
Written by Mike Jarecki, Member of the AILA Media Advocacy Committee and the LGBT Immigration Issues Working Group