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Contact NIJC Communications Director Tara Tidwell Cullen at (312) 833-2967 or by email.

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed 13 complaints in April 2011 with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General demanding that the Obama administration investigate abuse allegations and take action to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants in DHS custody.

“We are calling on the Obama administration to investigate these allegations because it’s clear that DHS is incapable of ensuring safe and non-punitive conditions for sexual minorities,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, NIJC’s executive director. “These complaints document stories of abuse, humiliation, and neglect, often in isolated detention facilities where people have little access to the outside world. Given DHS’s inability to protect vulnerable individuals in its custody from abuse, the Obama administration must take concrete steps to reduce its expansive detention program and to use alternatives to detention.”

The administration should take immediate steps to apply the protections of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which would provide protections and remedies for individuals who are victims of sexual assault, to all immigration detention facilities.

The 13 complaints describe violations including sexual assault, denial of medical and mental health treatment, arbitrary long-term solitary confinement, and frequent harassment by officers and facility personnel. The experiences of the courageous individuals who submitted complaints reflect the wrongful treatment suffered by hundreds of LGBT immigrants in DHS detention facilities throughout the country.

The cases of abuse and neglect cited in the complaints include:

  • A gay Peruvian asylum seeker was held in solitary confinement for almost six weeks on the sole basis that he is HIV-positive. He was only released from solitary confinement and from immigration custody when he won his immigration case. Officers frequently prohibited him from leaving his cell to get his HIV medication. He was traumatized when he sought medical treatment and an officer refused to remove the shackles on his feet, waist, and hands, despite pleas from his doctor.
  • An asylum seeker from Mexico was kept on a daily 22-hour lockdown during her detention in a Southern California facility. The detention center arbitrarily subjected all sexual minorities to this isolated detention. She endured homophobic slurs from officers, who often extended her lockdown to more than 23 hours per day. One officer allegedly told her that the punishment was to “teach her not to be transgender.”

The individuals who filed complaints all came to the United States to escape persecution in their native countries, only to face continued abuse in the immigration system. DHS cannot continue to detain people if the U.S. government cannot protect them.


Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit