This week the National Center for Transgender Equality joined more than 100 LGBT, immigration, and allied organizations in sending a letter urging President Obama to keep LGBT immigrants out of detention centers except in extraordinary circumstances. Other organizations joined the letter include the American Immigration Lawyers Association, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Immigration Law Center, National LGBTQ Task Force, and PFLAG National.
The letter highlights federal and state surveys finding that LGBT prisoners face rates of rape and sexual abuse behind bars at rates 10 to 13 times as high as other prisoners. It also highlights a federal report finding that of a sample of substantiated sexual assault cases in immigration detention, 1 in 5 victims was transgender.
The letter also tells the story of Johanna, a transgender woman who like many other LGBT immigrants fled life-threatening persecution because of her identity. Johanna fled to the US following a gang rape in El Salvador, only to be raped again in immigration detention. Conditions in detention were so bad for her that she abandoned her asylum claim and agreed to deportation, but soon returned. After a second detention and deportation, she was abducted from the airport in El Salvador and again gang-raped. Salvadoran policy told her her attackers should have killed her. After a third stint of months in immigration detention, Johanna won the right to stay in the US. Months in solitary confinement and reported deportations likely cost the government up to $50,000 and subjected her to repeated sexual assaults.
As recently as last month, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies have recognized that certain groups of immigrants should generally not be placed in detention centers because of their vulnerability. In light of federal reports finding LGBT people are at extraordinary risk behind bars, DHS should make clear that LGBT immigrants are one of those groups. NCTE will continue to press DHS and the White House to ensure that no LGBT immigrant is needlessly placed at risk of assault behind bars.
Read the letter below.