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Responding to grassroots pressure from advocates, and mounting criticismfrom congressional leaders such as Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unveiled an 18-page memorandum for the care of transgender immigrants in detention this week.
While these guidelines are a step in the right direction and long overdue, it’s still not enough and here’s why:
1. Detention of vulnerable immigrants is inherently inhumane: The new guidance does nothing to move us away from the prolonged detention of transgender individuals, the vast majority of whom are asylum seekers who have already faced persecution in their home countries, only to be subjected to further pain and suffering at the hands of ICE. Detaining asylum seekers is inhumane, re-traumatizes some of the most vulnerable immigrants and it is contrary to our laws when detention is used as a form of deterrence to dissuade people from coming to the United States. Advocates have repeatedly called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to release such detainees once they have proven that their fear of persecution is credible. Officials should act to end the practice of detaining such individuals, as there is no mending it.
2. The new guidance provides inadequate care and housing options: The guidance continues to allow practices that have been denounced as inhumane, such as administrative segregation, ‘protective custody’ and isolated pods for transgender detainees. ICE detains 75 transgender immigrants on average, which is less than one percent of the detainee population, but over 20 percent of sexual assault cases in immigrant detention involve a transgender survivor. Alternative housing practices havefailed to protect transgender immigrants in detention from sexual assault and physical abuse in the past, and should not be used when releasing such detainees on bond or parole is a much more humane and cheaper alternative.
3. No guidelines for the treatment of vulnerable immigrants such as lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers: Many individuals seeking asylum in the United States are detained upon arriving at a port of entry. Many of them, including lesbians, gays and bisexuals, have suffered severe persecution in their home countries. A recent Center for American Progress report shows that ICE routinely detains LGBT immigrants who it knows are at great risk and should not be behind bars. A disproportionate number of undocumented LGBT individuals are Asian American. The new guidelines do nothing to recognize that these individuals, who may have suffered sexual assault and torture in their home countries, remain vulnerable in immigrant detention and should be released.
4. No guidelines for dealing with sexual assault and abuse in detention:Transgender immigrants in ICE custody face extremely harsh conditions such as alarming rates of sexual assault, physical abuse and harassment. While housing them according to their gender identity may reduce some of the violence transgender detainees face, the guidelines provide no mechanism for reporting ongoing violence. Forty percent of sexual assault cases in detention are unreported, and the guidelines contain no mention of how transgender immigrants can report assault, or any measures to protect transgender immigrants from such assault.
5. No enforcement mechanism — The ICE ERO working group that crafted this guidance worked hard to meet with transgender detainees and try to ascertain best practices for the detention of transgender individuals in custody. However, without a grievance mechanism, the guidance may be tough to enforce at all facilities.
We strongly urge the ICE ERO working group to consider alternatives to detention for LGBT and other vulnerable immigrants in detention.
Full text: “That awkward moment when you run away from your home country due to discrimination for being queer…Only to be locked up in the land of the free with a lot of machista, and sexist, homophobic, transphobic ICE officers.” – Alejandro Aldana
Yesterday, I received this bittersweet postcard from my dear friend, Alex Aldana, who is currently detained at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego.
Alex lived with his family in California for ten years, where he graduated from high school and worked hard to make his community a better place. He left the U.S. to go back to Mexico five months ago to care for his sick grandmother.
Over these past few months, Alex discovered how crime and corruption made life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico. In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now, Alex wants to return to California, where his mother and sibling reside so that he can continue to take care of them, and lead a life that does not entail the amount of violence he would face if he remained in Mexico.
Even with the heightened standard for credible fear instituted by the new Lafferty memo in light of the numerous claims for asylum from Mexico and Central America, Alex has already passed his credible fear interview. This means that according to Immigration and Customs officials, Alex has established a clear and convincing chance of winning asylum before an Immigration Judge based on his fear of persecution in Mexico. According to ICE guidelines, Alex should be released from detention to pursue his asylum case as he is neither a threat nor a flight risk. However, he has been detained at Otay for more than a month for no real reason, and subjected to abuse inside the facility.
While the President sits with his hands tied behind his back even as he deports people in record numbers, and Congress remains as ineffective as ever, here are some cases of deportations that need your immediate attention:
- Ana Cañenguez & her four sons face deportation to El Salvador, where they fear for their lives.
- Alfredo Reyes, an Undocuqueer activist from Los Angeles, CA and a member of the Immigrant Youth Coalition is facing deportation after police officers in his county handed him to ICE in violation of the state TRUST Act.
- In New Jersey, the Anandarajah family needs our help.
- Not One More Deportation Campaign: Edgar, Jose Luis and Israel
- And then there are dozens of petitions to sign from the Bring Them Home campaign of asylum and humanitarian parole seekers who are detained.
- Ricardo Lugardo, a community member in Maryland, who was serving out his probation for a first-time DUI offense when ICE agents arrested and detained him. Due to ineffective assistance of counsel, Ricardo took voluntary departure. He has no prior orders or criminal history, and deserves a second chance. I’ll put a link up to his petition shortly.
These are just less than 1 percent of the numbers of people deported daily from the U.S. Now I don’t believe that deportation is the worst thing that can happen to a person. The invisible detention regime that keeps the undocumented imprisoned inside the cages of America and separated from their loved ones at home is far more insidious, sinister and life-threatening than deportation in many scenarios. Our advocates do not talk about it because it means answering critical questions about America’s role in creating and sustaining conditions that lead us to leave our homes, and serve as a reserve army of the marginalized and exploited here in the U.S.
But at the same time, our communities need relief now, and they are not likely to get it through Congress. In the meanwhile, keep signing these petitions and keep organizing.
This week, Jose Patino of “The Dream is Now” fame wrote great article on “What the undocumented community needs out of immigration reform” which raised a lot of eyebrows. Friend of this blog, Cesar Vargas, Founder of DRM Action, reiterated that undocumented youth leaders are loyal to their communities, and not beholden to either party. Around the same time, the National Immigration Law Center released an excellent report, outlining how the President can use his executive powers to stop deportations.
After having a public fallout with certain undocumented leaders, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the strongest advocates for immigration reform, has actually adopted their views on deportation. In a Fusion interview, he states:
“Democrats think all they need to do is to simply blame Republicans. You know what? We control the White House and we control the deportation apparatus,” he said. “We have a responsibility to act.”
Certainly, we can do more. While we await immigration reform, Santiago Leco’s recent infiltration of El Paso Detention Center, combined with a Fusion investigation, has revealed that ICE had detained at least 13 pregnant women, contrary to its own policy:
The agency’s policy says that detaining pregnant or nursing women is low on their priority list. The directive states that resources should be spent on locking up people whose cases are top priority, like those who have formerly broken immigration laws, are threats to public safety, or have been convicted of crimes.
Similarly, contrary to its own policy, the U.S. continues to detain asylum seekers, even after they have been granted credible fear.This week, a law firm contacted me about helping out with one of their clients who is currently detained in Georgia after fleeing Honduras for his life. Homeland Security agents detained Mr. Paz and his wife after they crossed the Texan border in late October 2013. The two fled Honduras after being threatened by the gang members who killed two of their adult children in 2013. Mr. Paz, who is 60 years old, applied for asylum and passed the credible fear interview, but the Department of Homeland Security is refusing to release him from custody. Instead, they have him locked up at Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, hundreds of miles away from his family. Please sign his petition here.
The U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with immigration issues. Thousands of African refugees to Israel joined in a peaceful protest this week against Israel’s denial of their refugee status and their continued detention. The New Yorker has more background on this issue.
A very dear friend of this blog, Attorney Madeline Stano, showed up in federal court this week to prevent discriminatory pesticide practices that allow predominantly Latino children to be exposed to high levels of harmful chemicals in California. Thanks Stano!
The polar votex came for me so I am back in the Bay Area, California. On that note, the EBIYC – East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition is now accepting scholarship applications. The due date is Monday, February 17. So check it out!
Photo Credit: greensefa