Today, the Center for American Progress hosted a panel on Dignity Denied: LGBT Immigrants in U.S. Immigration Detention, which focused on the unjust and harsh living conditions many LGBT undocumented immigrants face in the U.S.
Speakers included Olga Tomchin, a Soros Fellow at the Transgender Law Center, Royce Murray, Policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center, and Christina Fialho, Co-Founder and Executive Director at the Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).
The event started with the story of Krypcia, a LGBT undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, who came to the U.S for a safer life than was offered in her home country of El Salvador.
Like many LGBT undocumented immigrants, Krypcia came to the U.S. to avoid violence and persecution which she faced every day in her country as a transgender woman.
After living in the U.S. for a decade, Krypcia was arrested for falling out of legal immigration status. Although no criminal charges were filled, Krypcia remained in solitary confinement for eight months.
Officials at the detention center believed this would be the best option since they would not put her with the other women and being placed in the male population would be unsafe. Eventually she decided returning to El Salvador would be better than suffering through an unknown length of time in the detention center. Luckily, the immigration judge handling her case refused to deport her due to El Salvador’s harsh treatment of the transgender community.
Krypcia’s story is not rare among the LGBT undocumented immigrants held in detention facilities, and who often face sexual assault, violence, and a denial of health services, which include hormone treatment that is guaranteed by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Fialho said she was talking to a transgender detainee who shared that a guard told her to use her “male voice.”
LGBT undocumented immigrants are being mistreated, abused, humiliated and harassed in these detention facilities. Like all undocumented immigrants who find themselves forced into the centers, LGBT individuals are not given access to free counsel, meaning they are not informed of the rights given to them under the asylum law.
Asylum makes it possible for immigrants to remain lawfully in the U.S indefinitely and after a year gives them the opportunity to apply for legal permanent residence. To qualify, an immigrant must prove that they face persecution in their home country.
Olga Tomchin argued that transgender immigrants cannot be housed safely in this kind of prison setting. The laws that are set up by the ICE to protect the LBGT undocumented immigrants are often ignored or denied by individual detention facilities. There are no consistent standards upheld by the facilities.
The panelists discussed four solutions to fix the problems in the detention program.
First, is the importance of communication and raising public awareness. To end immigration detention we need to acknowledge that this problem exists.
Second, is accountability. Local communities need to start acting as a check to the detention facilities that operate in their towns. As of now there is a major lack of internal accountability.
Third, is a repeal of the bedroom mandate, arguing that the requirement of detaining at least 34,000 people a day caused immigration officers to collaborate with police officers to find immigrants. Immigration Officers go to stations to see where people are born who have recently been involved with the police.
The final solution is to create alternatives to detention. This could be GPS ankle bracelets or orders of supervisions requiring LBGT immigrants to appear at an ICE office at certain times. As Olga said, “The detention of LBGT immigrants is inhumane.”