Defending the rights of sexual minorities in the custody of the U.S. immigration detention system has gained momentum since the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a mass civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in April 2011. The complaint, submitted to DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on behalf of 13 gay and transgender individuals in immigration detention documented the discrimination, abuse, and medical neglect that these individuals suffered in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The complaints report instances of rape, sexual violence, misuse of segregation and punitive conditions in solitary confinement, denial of HIV treatment and hormone therapy, as well as pervasive discrimination and humiliation by guards on account of individuals’ sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since NIJC filed the complaint, policy makers and advocates from across the country have come out to join us in defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants in detention:
- Media all over the country reported on the systemic abuse detailed in the complaints. Several of the complainants courageously spoke out about the abuse they suffered.
- Members of Congress held a briefing on the mistreatment of sexual minorities in immigrant detention, and are pressing the Obama administration to provide a full and comprehensive investigation into the complaints. On June 29, 38 members of Congress sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for thorough investigations into the complaints and for the Obama administration to apply protections and remedies contained in the Prison Rape Elimination Act to immigration detention facilities.
- One of the Southern California jails which formerly held a blanket policy prohibiting the provision of hormone therapy for transgender individuals – violating DHS standards – has tweaked its policies. Still falling short of recognized medical standards, the facility now provides access to hormone prescriptions for individuals who can document they were receiving treatment prior to their detention.
- Another of the Southern California jails has modified its practice and is no longer holding transgender individuals in 22-hour lock down.
- NIJC filed an urgent appeal with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture describing repeated instances of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment against sexual minorities in U.S. immigration custody, adding further pressure on the Obama administration to expedite the investigation process and issue public findings.
- Lambda Legal and 16 other advocates issued a letter in support of NIJC’s recommendations calling on the Obama administration to end the pervasive discrimination against sexual minorities in immigration custody.
- New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm introduced a resolution on June 29, urging DHS to investigate the abuse allegations and to take action to ensure the safety of LGBT immigrants in its custody.
Despite these local, national and international efforts, NIJC continues to receive complaints from LGBT immigrants of routine mistreatment. Since the filing of the mass complaint we are aware of at least 10 new cases of abuse. Further, five of the 13 original complainants are still detained. All of these individuals are seeking protection from persecution in their native countries. They are not flight risks, nor do they pose a danger to the community. The U.S. government cannot continue to detain people whose basic human rights it cannot protect. What will it take for the Obama administration to meaningfully address this systemic abuse?