Do New Immigration Detention Guidelines Fail Trans Detainees?

What was once a problem is still a problem even after an Obama administration review, trans activists warn.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

March 14 2014 5:53 AM ET

At left: An immigrant detainee makes a call from his 'segregation cell' at the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California. Guards said he had been put in solitary confinement for fighting with another inmate.

This whole idea — of housing trans women in men's facilities, and creating "pods" — seems unsafe. Wouldn't the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, preclude these rules? Putting someone in solitary confinement for eight or nine months seems like it might fall under that. As this is an immigration issue, does that apply?
Most studies about solitary confinement show that at about two weeks, you're causing lasting medical and mental health harm. Everybody knows that, and that's the science of it. DHS is saying, "We think the presumptive limit should be 30 days," which is twice that long. Then they don't follow it, anyway. That rule doesn't apply to contract facilities. They know what the science is, but they don't care.

That is both sad and scary — that the science is out there, that research has been put into this, but DHS doesn't seem to care.
The reason we care about this at NCTE is multifaceted. We do believe that if injustice is allowed to happen, it's going to also happen to trans people. All injustice is bad on its own, and bad because it's used against trans people more than other people. In this particular case, it's being used against trans people just because they're trans. Remember, a huge percentage of trans immigrants who are in detention came to this country because they were trans, and because they weren't safe in their own country.

These are people who were persecuted, raped, or not allowed to work because they're trans. They come to the United States where they face discrimination and violence because they're trans, and because they're immigrants, obviously. Then they go into immigration detention where they face elevated risk of sexual assault. They're housed wrong because they're trans. ... This is very much a trans issue because it's the "transness" of the people that are causing them to be abused throughout their lives — whether it's abuse they face in their home country, or the abuse they face in a detention facility.

It really seems as though there's no escape for these people. They face discrimination back home, they face it here. What can be done to change this?
A lot of our people simply don't know about the system we have in place, and they don't understand it. We have these arbitrary 34,000 beds that ICE is just required to fill each night. It doesn't make any sense.

It's all about politics. It's all about some struggle between Republicans and Democrats, and people trying to look "strong against immigration" or people trying to be "reasonable compromisers." But this isn't about one or two people getting screwed. This is 34,000 people being torn from their families, with some of them being sexually assaulted, put in solitary confinement — and most people don't even know this is a thing.

When I was at the Santa Ana detention center in California, I was standing with a couple guards, and we were standing in this LGBT pod. I looked around, and it looked like it was completely made up of gay men and transgender women. I said, "It looks like there's not a lot of gay women here." The guard said, "That's right, it's just gay men." I said, "Yes, and transgender women." He said, "Yes, all kinds of gay men."

I think that comes from how they feel about transgender people: "They're just gay men." It leads to all these horrible things.

Anytime I hear the tired, overplayed idea that transgender women are simply an extension of gay men, as though we're just so gay that we switched our gender, it irks me. For one, as a transgender woman who isn't at all into men, that's clearly not true. I think that's where a lot of these problems stem from: that transgender women are just men who have hit some sort of critical mass of gayness. This reinforces the idea that our gender — our identity as human beings — boils down to nothing more than a performance that we could dial back if we wanted. It's pervasive. The assertion that transgender women aren't actually women builds stereotypes. What are your thoughts on this?
Yep. I completely agree. This should irk you.

We had this one woman who came into our office. She was picked up in a somewhat random traffic stop situation. It wasn't an accident, and there weren't any drugs or alcohol. She was picked up and put in immigration detention. She asked for an asylum hearing. In the meantime, she was put in solitary confinement for nine months to wait. After a few months, she got word that her mother was about to die, so she asked if she could go see her mother, and they said, "No." Her mother died a couple days later.

In her one hour every day in the yard — the recreation area — she was crying. Another detainee asked her what was wrong, and she explained that her mother had died, and she wasn't allowed to go see her. The woman hugged her, and they both lost their one hour privileges for a month for touching another inmate. At the end of the nine months, she was driven to a courthouse for a hearing. The hearing lasted five minutes, and the judge said, "Yep, you're a good case for asylum. We'll let you out." She was put in solitary confinement for nine months before she was able to get this five minute hearing that would have released her.

But hey, she helped them meet the bed quota.

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