Washington – Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) today sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Matthew T. Albence, asking whether ICE is taking the necessary steps to accommodate transgender migrants in their custody. Specifically, the letter asks if ICE is complying with the Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act direction to provide transgender migrants with a safe environment.
“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 risks while in immigration detention,” the senators wrote. “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 from formerly detained people.”
Transgender migrants have faced unique discrimination while being held by ICE, as the immigration agency has repeatedly detained transgender women in all-male facilities, making them more vulnerable to physical and mental health issues and putting them at risk of sexual assault. Numerous transgender migrants have died either in ICE custody or soon after being released because they were denied or provided with inadequate medical care.
The Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directs ICE to only detain transgender migrants in facilities that are specifically equipped to accommodate them safely, but it is unclear if ICE is complying with this congressional directive, or if they even have facilities that meet the directive’s guidelines.
The letter can be found here and below:
The Honorable Chad Wolf
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Nebraska Avenue Complex
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20528
Matthew T. Albence
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St., SW
Washington, D.C. 20536
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:
We write regarding the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act provisions related to the detention of transgender migrants and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) compliance with the attendant report language. Specifically, we ask that you explain how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is complying or plans to comply with congressional requirements for care of this vulnerable migrant population.
The explanatory statement accompanying the FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directs ICE to “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.”
To date, it is unclear which ICE detention facilities, if any, have formally modified their contracts to provide a safe environment for transgender migrants as outlined in the 2015 memo. Therefore, ICE’s detention of transgender individuals may not be in compliance with congressional direction. If ICE is failing to comply with the terms of the appropriations report, we request that ICE consider the supervised release of those individuals or place them in alternative-to-detention programming.
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 risks 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 from formerly detained people.
The use of solitary confinement has caused particular harm to transgender migrants in detention. ICE has used solitary confinement and has detained transgender women in all-male facilities, placing them at risk of physical and mental health deterioration and vulnerability to sexual assault.
The United Nations Human Rights Council recognizes that the placement of LGBT people in solitary confinement for their own “protection” or for punishment, during pretrial detention, or for prolonged periods can constitute a form of torture.
In May 2018, after being in ICE custody at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman seeking asylum in the United States 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 reportedly requested medical attention while in custody, but was denied medical care by ICE.
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 appropriations bill. The United States is bound by domestic and international law to protect—not punish—vulnerable populations escaping from persecution.
We appreciate your attention to this matter.