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June 23rd, 2015
Reps. Grijalva, Honda Urge DHS to Protect LGBT Immigrants from Sexual Assault

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Michael Honda (D-CA) today led 33 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing concern over the circumstances lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants face while held in detention centers under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The letter reads in part, “we strongly urge you to use existing discretion to release LGBT individuals from custodial detention and use parole or alternatives to detention to ensure the safety and appearance of this group throughout their immigration proceedings.”

The lawmakers’ letter comes in response to alarming trends of sexual assault facing the LGBT community in detention centers. Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to ten times the rate of heterosexual men. In addition, BJS found that one in three transgender detainees face sexual abuse within twelve months of custody. That troubling figure is compounded by the fact that the Government Accountability Office in November 2013 found that transgender immigrants reported 20 percent of sexual assaults in ICE custody – this despite the fact that transgender individuals are estimated to comprise less than 1 percent of the general population.

“LGBT individuals face unique threats in detention facilities, and we must do everything in our power to protect them,” said Rep. Grijalva. “The good news is ICE has policies in place to help address these needs – the bad news is they are not utilizing those policies, and in some cases, ignoring them outright. This disregard facilitates sexual assault against the LGBT community, which is completely unacceptable. Most of these people fled their native countries for fear of persecution – we cannot allow them to be victimized again once in U.S. custody.”

“The alarming rates of sexual assaults of non-heterosexual detainees should be a wakeup call for ICE,” said Rep. Honda. “Even more dire is the fact ICE continues to detain transgender women in men’s detention facilities. ICE has the power to determine suitable alternatives to detain LGBT persons, but instead they continue to ignore safer alternatives. Our letter calls on ICE to use the power they have to create a safer and more humane alternative that will treat LGBT individuals with respect and dignity.”

On November 20, 2014, DHS released a priorities memo ensuring ICE has the authority to determine whether an individual’s detention is or is not “in the public interest.” ICE officers also utilize the Risk Classification Assessment (RCA), which recommends that ICE officers process an immigrant for release if they fear any harm in detention based on their sexual orientation of gender identity. But the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found that ICE overrode explicit RCA recommendations in 19 percent of the cases for LGBT detainees. Furthermore, while DHS adheres to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), there is no clear PREA implementation plan for the LGBT population to-date.

The full text of the letter is available here.

Today’s letter has endorsements from 22 organizations:
National Center for Transgender Equality, United We Dream, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), National Lawyers Guild, Immigration Equality, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Transgender Law Center, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, The National Council of Jewish Women, Southerners On New Ground, Human Rights Watch, The National LGBTQ Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, COLOR Latina, Entre Hermanos, Association of Latino/as Motivating Action (ALMA), Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, National Immigrant Justice Center, Young Women United, Just Detention International.

Harper Jean Tobin, Esq., Director of Policy, National Center for Transgender Equality:
“The letter Representatives Grijalva and Honda are sending today is an important acknowledgement of the terrible conditions so many are facing in detention centers across the country. Locking up women and men in dangerous detention centers simply to await a civil court hearing is unnecessary, costly, and dangerous. And it is simply immoral and unacceptable for vulnerable groups like LGBT immigrants. Many are torture and rape survivors seeking safety, and too many are raped or abused again in US detention. ICE knows they are simply not safe. There are other options, and ICE should use them.”

Carlos Padilla, Program Coordinator of United We Dream’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project:
“Today’s Congressional letter authored by Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Mike Honda (D-CA) urging DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to act swiftly and decisively on behalf of Transgender women and other LGBTQ people currently detained is a step in the right direction. As we further the rights of LGBTQ people in this country, we must not forget of our LGBTQ immigrant community who continue to be disproportionately affected by abuse, including sexual assault, while in immigration detention.”

Aaron Morris, Legal Director of Immigration Equality:
“We commend Representatives Grijalva and Honda for their leadership on this issue. This letter should demonstrate to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that these human rights abuses on American soil are unacceptable and must end immediately. The U.S. government must stop housing transgender women in male detention facilities, must ensure the respectful and humane treatment of LGBT immigrants, and must stop deporting LGBT individuals to countries where they are fundamentally unsafe.”


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