By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com August 01 2014 5:13 PM ET
Activists have called for the release of a transgender woman in an Arizona immigration detention center after learning she was sexually assaulted by her cellmate late last month. The 23-year-old woman, who goes by the name Marichuy, has been held in the privately-run Eloy Detention Center for more then a year as she awaits a hearing regarding her immigration status.
According to a joint press release from the Arcoiris Liberation Team, Puente Movement, and Transgender Law Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have attempted to coerce Marichuy into signing a declaration claiming that her rape was actually consensual sex. The statement goes on to note that in the weeks leading up to Marichuy's assault, her would-be assailant bullied her, hurled lewd comments at her, and threatened to rape her. Marichuy reported this harassment to an on-duty officer, but was allegedly told to "deal with it." Weeks later, her cellmate followed through on his previous threats.
“ICE has shown that they are incapable of ensuring Marichuy’s protection from future assaults or retaliation for reporting the awful sexual abuse she has survived," Francisco Luna of the Arcoiris Liberation Team said in a statement. "We see no other solution than for ICE to immediately release her, where her community can take measures to ensure that her community can help her heal.”
Reuters reports that ICE officials have confirmed that Marichuy's rape was reported, at which point the on-duty officer alerted the "appropriate authorities."
In a statement to Reuters, an unidentified ICE official said "ICE has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities, and takes any allegations of such mistreatment very seriously."
Earlier this year, National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling spoke with The Advocate regarding issues facing transgender immigration detainees. During the interview, Keisling was critical of ICE and the United States' current immigration policy.
"These are people who were persecuted, raped, or not allowed to work because they're trans," Keisling told The Advocate. "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."
Earlier in that interview, Keisling offered suggestions to ICE officials, saying, "There are so many alternatives to detention that could be used while waiting for asylum hearings, for deportation, for anything. There are alternatives like house arrest with ankle bracelets. Now, we're not in the business of recommending ankle bracelets, but if people are going to be put into situations where authorities don't want to protect them from frequent sexual assault, maybe ankle bracelets are the right way to go."
According to a November 2013 report from the Center for American Progress, LGBT detainees are 15 times as likely to be sexually assaulted than straight, cisgender (nontrans) detainees. As is the case with Marichuy, transgender women are frequently housed with men, dramatically increasing the likelihood of assault.