Lawmakers urge release of trans people and individuals with HIV, citing dangerous ICE conditions

Lawmakers urge release of trans people and individuals with HIV, citing dangerous ICE conditions

Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois is again leading a call urging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end the detention of transgender people and people with HIV. A letter, addressed to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Alejandro Mayorakas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, is signed by a number of progressive champions and joined by nearly 70 organizations.

“There are grave concerns regarding ICE safely detaining transgender individuals,” legislators write. “Even when ICE has endeavored to set up specific detention units tailored to comply with the requirements of its own 2015 guidance on the detention of transgender individuals, its efforts have failed.”

“The dedicated transgender housing unit set up at the Cibola County Correctional Center in 2017 was plagued by alarming deficiencies in medical care, including ‘hundreds of unanswered requests for medical attention, poor quarantine procedures, and deficient treatment for mental illnesses and other chronic diseases,’ documented in federal inspections eventually obtained by Reuters,” the letter said. 

That report detailed care so poor that detained immigrants were forced to pool their money together to buy medicine from the commissary. Facing public backlash over conditions, ICE in 2019 endeavored on a propaganda campaign depicting detained immigrants at the prison “smiling while reading or engaging in recreational activities, such as gardening and playing basketball,” Daily Dot reported at the time. But the fact is that ICE prisons are inherently threatening to human beings, especially when it comes to particularly vulnerable individuals.

“Immigration detention is notoriously dangerous and harmful for transgender immigrants, who are likely to be seeking asylum based on transphobic violence they have already faced, and because of such histories are likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions,” the letter said. House investigations have previously found that ICE’s failure to provide adequate medical care to immigrants has led to numerous deaths, noting ICE and private contractors commonly demonstrated “an indifference to the mental and physical care of the migrants in their custody.”

“Transgender individuals also are more likely to require specialized medical care including hormone replacement therapy and HIV treatment,” the Quigley-led letter continued. “Furthermore, in 2017, a congressional inquiry revealed that LGBTQ people in ICE custody are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized than non-LGBTQ people in detention.” Government documents obtained in 2019 have also revealed that ICE has intentionally tormented trans people with solitary confinement, which is torture.

“Given ICE’s history on transgender detention, it’s clear that ICE is not fully capable of safely and humanely detaining transgender and HIV+ individuals,” legislators say, urging ICE to allow immigrants to pursue their cases in freedom (which has ICE every ability to do). ICE has also recently issued guidance limiting the detention of pregnant individuals.

“As these individuals face civil, and not criminal proceedings, alternatives to detention that protect the health and safety of these individuals is paramount,” legislators conclude. “We therefore write again today to urge ICE to ensure the release of all transgender people and people living with HIV currently in custody either on recognizance or under supervision, and to formally and publicly announce that ICE will no longer detain transgender individuals and people living with HIV, utilizing release into the community or alternative to detention programming instead.” 

Quigley also led a letter last year calling on ICE to release vulnerable asylum-seekers amid the pandemic, writing that “[d]etaining LGBTQ asylum seekers, especially in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, is dangerous and irrational.” ICE instead refused to release larger numbers of immigrants, and was responsible for worsening the nation’s caseload by hundreds of thousands, an advocacy group found late last year.

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