January 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocacy group cancels conference panel with ICE officials
transgender, immigration, ICE, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates gather in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Southwest Washington headquarters on May 27, 2015, to protest the detention of transgender asylum seekers. The National LGBTQ Task Force has cancelled a panel at its upcoming Creating Change Conference that was to have featured three ICE officials. (Washington Blade photo by Antwan J. Thompson)

The National LGBTQ Task Force has cancelled a panel at its upcoming conference that was to have included representatives of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A description of the panel at the Creating Change Conference that the Washington Blade obtained on Monday listed three ICE officials as presenters. They were scheduled to speak about the detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex immigrants.

“The manner in which LGBTI individuals have been detained for immigration purposes has changed dramatically,” reads the panel description. “Learn what positive steps U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has taken to ensure safe and secure environments for those in custody. Ask questions and provide input to the people drafting the policies for the agency regarding LGBTI care.”

Angela Peoples, co-director of GetEQUAL, is among those who sharply criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force on social media.

“It’s incomprehensible that the (National) LGBTQ Task Force would even consider inviting ICE officials to Creating Change,” Peoples told the Blade. “Not only was the decision to put the safety and well being of undocumented conference goers at risk by inviting ICE to the conference a breach of trust; it seems to be in direct contrast to very position and goals of Creating Change and the Task Force.”

National LGBTQ Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal told the Blade on Monday in a statement that his organization has a “longstanding commitment to make our Creating Change Conference a safe space for all attendees.”

“After listening to concerns from our community, we have canceled a session with presenters from ICE at Creating Change 2016 called ‘Dialogue on Immigration Detention: The Past Present and Future of Immigration Detention of LGBTI Individuals,’” he said, noting the National LGBTQ Task Force informed ICE of its decision on Jan. 8.

ICE on Monday confirmed to the Blade that it has “been in contact with” the National LGBTQ Task Force about the panel’s cancellation.

“The agency’s goal during the conference was to outline the forward progress ICE has made to ensure additional protections for LGBT individuals in ICE custody and to gain valuable insight from the participants at the conference,” said ICE. “ICE is currently working with LGBT Task Force leadership to determine alternate ways to exchange information in a meaningful and productive way.”

Agency frequent target of protests

Advocates have repeatedly criticized ICE over the mistreatment they say LGBT immigrants suffer while in their custody.

More than 20 advocates with Casa Ruby and other groups in May 2015 took part in a protest outside ICE’s Southwest Washington headquarters.

D.C. police last summer arrested six people who sat in an intersection near the White House during a protest against the detention of undocumented LGBT immigrants. The National LGBTQ Task Force was among the organizations that took part in the event.

A memorandum that ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed on June 19, 2015, contained new guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees, including the requirement that detention facilities provide access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care. The agency announced the new regulations shortly after Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented trans immigrant and advocate, heckled President Obama during the annual White House Pride reception.

The National LGBTQ Task Force on Jan. 8 issued a statement in which Roybal urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, to no longer conduct raids against families from Central America and other undocumented immigrants who have entered the country over the last two years.

“These raids by Homeland Security were a heavy-handed attack on some of the most vulnerable, including families and children, for something that is not their fault — a broken immigration system that is in dire need of comprehensive and fair reform by Congress,” said Roybal. “Many of those who were targeted came to this country to flee extremely harsh circumstances. In the face of such violence and abuse, our response should not be to further intimidate and re-traumatize but rather to provide safety and refuge from often the most appalling conditions.”

The Creating Change Conference is scheduled to take place in Chicago from Jan. 20-24.

Last year’s conference took place in Denver less than a month after two police officers shot to death Jessica Hernandez, a trans teenager, as she drove a stolen car through an alley.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock cancelled a speech he was scheduled to deliver after LGBT rights advocates stormed the stage to protest the shooting. The city’s district attorney in June 2015 announced that he would not file charges against the two officers who shot Hernandez.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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