January 15, 2020

Luján, Members of Congress Call on ICE to End Transgender Migrant Detention

Washington, D.C. – This week, U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) joined more than 40 members of Congress to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement release all transgender individuals currently in their facilities and end transgender migrant detention if the agency remains unable to provide humane and quality care.

In a letter to Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, Luján, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and dozens of Members of Congress sharply criticized the treatment and lack of humanitarian care in ICE facilities for transgender immigrants. LGBTQ+ immigrants are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized in detention than cisgender immigrants. At least two women, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and Johana Medina León, have died in ICE custody. 

The recently enacted government funding package includes instructions for ICE to detain transgender individuals only in facilities specifically designed for their care. Currently, no ICE facilities meet these standards.

Luján and the Members of Congress are demanding that ICE immediately bring facilities detaining transgender individuals into compliance or release transgender detainees. The Members have requested a response, including a detailed plan for addressing the safety and health needs of transgender individuals in ICE custody.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement has consistently failed to provide humanitarian or even basic medical care for transgender individuals in their custody. These individuals are subject to violence and sexual assault at disproportionately high rates. The lack of humanitarian standards and medical care has led to the death of two trans women, including Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez in New Mexico. If ICE and the Trump administration cannot detain transgender individuals while maintaining their human dignity and right to access medical services, they must release these individuals to avoid subjecting them to continued harm,” said Luján.  

“Immigrants who have faced fear and violence in their pursuit of a new life in the United States should not be confronted with more fear and threats of violence when they arrive at our borders. Unfortunately, too often, that is exactly what many transgender immigrants face when placed in ICE detention facilities,” said Quigley. “Trans men and women experience a higher threat of sexual violence and are too frequently placed in solitary confinement. If ICE cannot provide appropriate and humane accommodations for these migrants, they must release them from detention. No one else should have to lose their lives because of ICE’s cruel mismanagement.”

“For too long, immigration detention has been overly harsh, callous, and punitive toward migrants generally, and transgender individuals in particular,” said Nadler. “Unfortunately, transgender migrants are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, physical and mental abuse, and medical neglect while in ICE detention. Rather than protect this vulnerable population, ICE detains them and places them at risk of abuse, medical neglect, and sexual harassment in ICE custody. Congress recognized that these inhumane conditions were unacceptable when it passed the FY 2020 Appropriations package, and ICE must take immediate action to protect vulnerable populations in its custody and find safe and suitable alternatives to detention.”

“The deaths of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and Johana Medina León stand as shocking examples of the consequences for the mistreatment and negligence that LGBTQ immigrants endure in ICE custody. These facilities are not prepared to ensure that vulnerable migrants, especially transgender individuals, are safe from violence and abuse while in their custody, nor are they prepared to provide necessary medical care. In fact, many facilities resort to solitary confinement rather than improve conditions in custody,” said Castro. “As Chair of the Hispanic Caucus, I’m working to hold ICE accountable and have already requested that the Homeland Security Inspector General launch an investigation into ICE for Roxsana’s death. Transgender immigrants cannot be safely detained by ICE under current standards - not one more life should be lost due to this agency’s negligence.”

The National Immigrant Justice Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Immigration Equality, Detention Watch Network, and Los Angeles LGBT Center have all endorsed the letter.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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Lauren French (202) 225-6190