The agency of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants unveiled new guidance on Monday for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for transgender people in immigration detention.
The 18-page memorandum, dated June 19 and signed by Thomas Homan, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations within the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, spells out new instructions to update data systems, identification and processing and housing placement for transgender detainees.
Additionally, the guidance announces the creation of a new national ERO LGBTI coordinator, who’ll coordinate care of LGBT people in detention. Also on Monday, each of the 24 ERO Field Offices are set to designate local LGBT field liaisons to serve as resources for officers, DHS announced.
In a statement, Homan said the memo “reaffirms ICE’s commitment to provide a safe, secure, and respectful environment for all those in our custody, including those individuals who identify as transgender.”
“We want to make sure our employees have the tools and resources available to learn more about how to interact with transgender individuals and ensure effective standards exist to house and care for them throughout the custody cycle,” Homan added.
Under the new guidance, officials are required to enable detainees to identify as transgender on data forms. For detainees that identify as transgender, officials are instructed to consider detention that has medical personnel with experience in providing care, including hormone therapy, to transgender people. Placement into a segregated unit should only be used as a last resort when no other temporary housing exists.
Richard Rocha, an ICE spokesperson, said the administration shared the guidance first with officers and close non-governmental organizations stakeholders, but held off until now to publicize the change.
The memo is made public after more than 30 House Democrats led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson last week and called for an update to policy for transgender detainees, saying the current system leaves transgender immigrants vulnerable to abuse.
Also last week, Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender immigrants and activist affiliated with GetEQUAL and FAMILIA TQLM, heckled President Obama for a two-minute period during the annual White House Pride reception last week and was later escorted out of the event. In an op-ed for the Washington Blade, Gutiérrez said she interrupted Obama to draw attention to harsh treatment of trans people in immigration detention.
In a joint statement, the National Immigrant Justice Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, United We Dream, Immigration Equality and Human Rights Campaign, welcomed the guidance, but said the Obama administration must do more to protect LGBT immigrants.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s racial and economic justice initiative policy advisor, said the time has come for the Obama administration to release transgender detainees altogether.
“ICE’s guidelines finally acknowledges what we’ve known for a long time: Transgender people cannot be held safely in detention,” Freedman-Gurspan said. “Though the guidance represents a significant improvement in how transgender immigration detainees will be treated, ICE’s record on implementing guidance such as this is mixed. To really end the suffering transgender detainees face, the Obama administration must release transgender detainees for whom being in detention makes them a target of sexual assault and violence.”
According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, the guidance is step forward, but falls short because it says nothing about gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals in immigration detention, allows for continued use of solitary confinement for detainees and has insufficient detail on implementation.
Keren Zwick, managing attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative, said she guidance is a positive step, but “the devil is in the details.”
“We continue to have significant concern that the implementation of this guidance will be slow, insufficient, and that it will result in hubbing transgender women in remote areas where they cannot have meaningful access to counsel,” Zwick said.