(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Tucson, Ariz.), today joined U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Silicon Valley, Calif.), U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii),, 23 Representatives and 10 Senators, sending a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, calling on Johnson to protect transgender immigrant detainees from abuse, unreasonable strip searches, and sexual assault while in U.S. custody.
While transgender immigrants are estimated to be less than 1 percent of those in custody of the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE), they reported 20 percent of sexual assaults, according to a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office.
The letter from Honda, Hirono, Grijalva and their colleagues urges Johnson to utilize cost-effective community-based alternatives to detention for LGBT individuals whenever possible.
“LGBT individuals face significant threats in ICE custody,” Grijalva said. “We are obligated to address the risks they face and ensure their safety in federal facilities. While DHS did create a policy to help protect this uniquely vulnerable population, they have neglected entirely to implement it. Half measures don’t solve problems, and sadly this failure impacts the safety and wellbeing of people seeking refuge here in the U.S. from violence in their home country. If DHS can’t provide a safe environment for the LGBT community – or any other group or individual – then we should end their detention immediately in favor of safer, community-based alternatives.”
“DHS created a policy to protect LGBT detainees, yet not one of their facilities has implemented this policy,” Honda said. “Our treatment of our fellow human beings in this instance is a disgrace and not appropriate for the government of the United States of America. We are calling on Secretary Johnson to do the right thing.”
“America should be a safe haven for those fleeing violence and oppression, but too many LGBT individuals are instead facing danger in ICE custody,” Hirono said. “It’s imperative that the Department of Homeland Security implement its Transgender Care Memorandum, and take additional steps to ensure that all in ICE custody are treated with dignity and respect.”
The letter was co-signed by Reps. Gutierrez, Norton, Gallego, Cicilline, Etsy, Maloney, Lee, Lowenthal, McDermott, Cardenas, Lofgren, Conyers, Jackson Lee, Takano, Schakowsky, Moore, McGovern, Hastings, Ellison and DeSaulnier.
Hirono was joined by fellow Senators Merkley, Baldwin, Markey, Warren, Heinrich and Brown.
“We join Members of Congress is urging DHS to take meaningful action to keep transgender women out of detention centers. This is a stark illustration of why immigration detention should be scaled back, starting with the most vulnerable people,” said the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“For transgender asylum seekers who flee violent persecution in their home countries, what they need the most is access to counsel, community support, and medical care. This can be impossible in detention,” said Aaron Morris, Executive Director of Immigration Equality. “Because immigration detention is fundamentally unsafe for transgender women, the most humane and cost-effective solution is to release them or to use alternative to detention programs.”
“Immigrants are running away from violence, from abuse, from murder, and instead of finding safe haven, ICE is putting them in situations where we know they are facing violence,” said Zenen Jaimes Perez from United We Dream. “The time to end the detention of transgender immigrants is now. It’s important that members of Congress are speaking out on this crisis and we call on the administration to take action to stop the abuse.”
Several of the Representatives also signed a letter to Johnson on June 23, 2015 noting that transgender detainees face high incidences of sexual assault.