TW: Mentions of sexual abuse against immigrants in ICE detention centers
The treatment of immigrants in the United States has been a pressing issue for decades; however, immigrants who identify as LGBT+ are often overlooked when addressing the brutal conditions imposed on those detained. Specifically, LGBT+ immigrants face increased risks of physical violence, are denied access to health care or legal counsel, and are refused protections by the US government and immigration forces.
Primarily, immigration procedure is handled by the Department of Homeland Security. In 2002, the passage of the Homeland Security Act created one of the most infamous agencies in government today: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more commonly known as ICE. Since its creation, the organization has continuously violated the rights of LGBT+ immigrants and refugees, while remaining unchecked.
The largest issue surrounding the treatment of immigrants held in ICE detainment facilities is rampant sexual assualt at the hands of the ICE officers. LGBT+ immigrants have consistently reported high rates of sexual assualt and misconduct by these officers while in detainment. This elevated frequency of assault against the LGBT+ community is in spite of the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2014, which requires ICE to publish an annual report of sexual assualt accusations as a way to hold the officers accountable. Even with this so-called “protection” in place, the Government Accountability Office has estimated over 215 cases of sexual abuse in ICE facilities, while noting the fact that many accusations were not being reported officially. The data from the Center for American Progress has determined that LGBT+ immigrants make up 12% of the victims who report sexual assualt, despite only making up 0.14% of those detained. Therefore, LGBT+ immigrants are 15 times more likely to be sexually assualted while in ICE detainment than non-LGBT+ immigrants.
The physical violence against LGBT+ immigrants isn’t always sexual, however, as there have been extreme cases of homophobia, misgendering, and forced solitary confinment imposed on these refugees. The conditions for transgender immigrants in particular are severely dangerous. ICE facitilies have completely disregarded the Transgender Care Memo and continue to detain transgender indivuals in solitary confiement for extended periods of time, with no grounds to do so. This treatment of immigrants opposes The United Nations declaration that the solitary confinement of LGBT immigrants is a form of torture. Even more accusations are being brought forward by immigrants held near El Paso, citing similar conditions involving sexual abuse, solitary confinement, and a lack of fundamental rights. Despite these obvious rights violations, ICE continues to justify its actions as a means of enforcement for national security to “protect citizens.”
The Center for American Progress provided a detailed assessment of the treatment of LGBT immigrants while in ICE detention, with their primary conclusion being that ICE fails to provide proper conditions and protections for immigrants. As to the issue of sexual violence and homophobia, the report found that officers constantly made homophobic remarks towards LGBT immigrants, were more likely to assualt LGBT immigrants, and detained transgender indivudals in confinement that did not align with their gender idenity. (For instance, transgender women were detained with male detainees). These allegations led to an FOIA request for records of the allegations and complaints against ICE detention officers, a request that revealed over 200 more reports of abuse. A Human Rights Watch investigation concluded that the sexual violence exposed ICE’s systemic failure to prevent or punish such sexual violence as well.
A pressing issue that makes it extremely difficult for immigrants to fight back against these ICE violations is the denied access to legal counsel and health care while in confinement. Investigations into the detention centers revealed the Performance Based National Detention Standards were not being applied to all ICE detention centers as indicated. This can most notably be observed in the poor medical conditions experienced by LGBT+ and HIV positive refugees. Often, medical care and medicine is not being provided to these immigrants despite the protections/care supposedly in place. Additionally, it is shown that immigrants who have access to legal assistance are 6 times more likely to succeed in challenging their confinement and deportation. While the Legal Orientation Program has proven to aid immigrants in educating themselves on proceedings and options, this program is not made available nationally, leaving many immigrants to challenge their detentions on their own. This is incredibly difficult, as many are not familiar with the US court system, do not speak English as a first language, and experience traumatic conditions while in detention centers that make it difficult to express their cases properly.
An interconnected systemic issue surrounding immigration is the process to apply for asylum in the United States. Affirmative asylum seekers are expected to assume basic stability within the miniscule time frame of one year, which does not provide substantial time for the majority of immigrants to succeed. Therefore, this systemic practice leads to the increased number of immigrants within the toxic detention centers and increases the risk of violence against them. The Williams Institute has estimated there are about 267,000 undocumented LGBT+ immigrants in the US, and almost 70% of those are then detained by ICE in local/state facilities. This short time frame is especially dangerous, as over 69 countries still consider being a member of the LGBT+ community a crime, with 11 utilizing the death penalty as a consequence. These conditions often are the reason for migrating to the US, yet the asylum application process continues to cause immigrants harm with the apathetic requirements. An additonal 2020 update to asylum law now excludes admission on the basis of gender discrimination as well, leading to the decrease in possible admissions and the increase in deportations of many LGBT+ immigrants. Consequently, a process that is supposed to alleviate discrimination and provide a place of solace for immigrants coming to the US is beginning to ignore their pleas for protection and sympathy.
Despite the lack of recent media coverage, the issues surrounding ICE and the immigration process in the United States have not gone unnoticed. Immigration activists along with the National Immigration Center continue to propose reforms and fight for the restoration of human sympathy regarding the process of immigration within the United States. The National Immigration Center recommends several reforms to the current immigration system to protect LGBT+ immigrants. The recommendations include: providing safe alternatives to detention by exploring community based options, the repeal of the one year timeline to apply for asylum, a congressional safeguard for the rights of non-citizens to apply for asylum in the US, and a requirement to appoint counsel for everyone in immigration proceedings. This center also highlights the malpractices of the immigration system managed by the Department of Homeland Security. This includes the insufficient training of border agents in regards to the humanitarian situation in Central America, which leads to the deportation of many refugees back to harmful environments. Additionally, the center calls attention to the department’s failure to hold ICE officers accountable for failing to meet the minimal standards of detention.
Whether these specific reforms or variations of them are implemented, it is vital that the US immigration system changes to ensure the safety and well-being of LGBT+ immigrants. The LGBT+ community has been constantly targeted with maltreatment and homophobia for centuries, and it’s time for systemic changes. These systemic changes must include the Department of Homeland Security and US government’s commitment to hold ICE officers accountable for their actions, while prioritizing the improvement of conditions imposed on LGBT+ immigrants to ensure a more hopeful future.