Last week, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission released a scathing report that criticized how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security houses individuals in immigration detention, and concluded that the agency is not fully adhering to standards that are in place to protect LGBT individuals. HRC applauds the Commission for bringing attention to this important topic.
The Commission is a bipartisan, independent agency created to ensure that the nation’s civil rights laws are implemented fairly. In January, the Commission held a hearing on the state of civil rights in immigration detention. HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy testified that the laws that are in place to protect individuals against sexual assault and violence are not being fully implemented. Stacy said that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is being implemented at a “frustratingly slow pace” and is not properly protecting LGBT individuals, especially gay men and transgender women. PREA was enacted in 2003 with the explicit goal of ending prison sexual assault and abuse.
In the detailed, 499 page report released last week, the Commission called for additional investigations into whether Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for housing individuals who are waiting for their immigration claim to be addressed, is doing enough to protect transgender individuals from assault.
The report also included a series of recommendations to the President and Congress on ways to improve the civil rights of individuals in detention. The Commission accepted all of the recommendations that HRC presented to the Commission.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Former Prisoner Survey found that homosexual and bisexual men reported approximately 10 times the rate of sexual victimization by another inmate compared to heterosexual male former prisoners. Transgender detainees are at even greater risk. In December 2014, BJS reported that 24.1 percent and 16.7 percent of transgender inmates in state and federal prisons were the victims of abuse by an inmate and staff, respectively.
Currently, transgender women are either placed in facilities based on birth sex or in cells that are separate from the general population, which can be lonely and stigmatizing. Placing transgender individuals in the facilities based on their gender identity or where they feel safest is a critical first step in ensuring that they are safe.
HRC will continue to work with Congress and the Executive Branch to ensure the safety of all LGBT individuals in immigration detention. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. No person should be in fear of their safety simply for trying to attain the American dream.