March 27, 2020 at 9:21 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocacy groups demand ICE release LGBTQ detainees from La. detention center

Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday demanded the release of LGBTQ people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Louisiana.

Immigration Equality, Trans Latin@ Coalition, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gender Justice LA, VisibiliT, Al Otro Lado and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee sent a letter to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and other officials on behalf of LGBTQ people and people with HIV who are detained at the Winn Correctional Center.

LaSalle Corrections operates the facility that is roughly 100 miles southeast of Shreveport, La., in the state’s Winn Parish.

The letter notes detainees have said Winn Correctional Center staff have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus inside the facility.

“Our LGBTQI/HIV+ clients at Winn are reporting troubling conditions specific to the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the letter. “They include lack of medical attention for a detainee who had a days long fever, a sympton (sic) of COVID-19, crowded conditions, and a lack of sanitation supplies for detainees and staff alike.”

The letter notes one detainee has said staff as of March 20 “had not addressed COVID-19 concerns with immigrant detainees, including failing to instruct detainees on handwashing and social distancing.” The letter also indicates hand sanitizer is “not available” and ICE last week transferred up to 35 detainees to the facility.

“Some dormitories have 50 people in the same room sharing one sink, one toilet and no meaningful access to medical attention or sanitation,” reads the letter.

The letter also documents “widespread abuse and mistreatment of LGBTQI/HIV+ individuals” at the facility.

A transgender woman told the groups that she and another trans detainee were “forced to share a shower and bathroom facilities with nearly 50 cisgender men.”

The letter refers to another detainee who said staff last Aug. 19 forced her to play soccer in the yard with a group of cisgender men. The detainee claims one of the male detainees attacked her and broke her leg, but an officer “refused to take a report.”

The letter refers to a trans woman who claims she has “been forcefully pushed in the middle of her back by guards at least three times, including when she was merely standing and reading her Bible.” It also notes staff “regularly threaten transgender women with solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons, such as interpreting for other detained individuals.”

A gay detainee who is cited in the letter claims a guard subjected him to homophobic harassment after he asked him a question in a dining hall. The letter, among other things, also notes an officer threatened a trans detainee “with physical harm, going as far as to say he would beat to death any detained individuals who made him angry.”

The letter notes one detainee with HIV said he has “experienced numerous interruptions to his antiretroviral regime” while at the facility. The detainee also claims he has blood in his urine and suffers from “kidney problems” because he does not receive his medications at the same time each day.

The letter also notes ICE officers who oversee the detainees’ asylum cases “routinely ignore parole requests submitted by the individuals or their legal counsel.”

“The above information reflects the egregious conditions at the Winn Correctional Center and reveals blatant homophobia, transphobia, and a disregard for basic human safety,” reads the letter. “The above-mentioned individuals have submitted regular complaints to DHS, all of which remain unaddressed. In essence, these LGBTQI/HIV+ asylum-seekers are indefinitely trapped in a detention center where they are at a heightened risk of medical negligence, sexual harassment and disproportionate systemic violence.”

An ICE spokesperson has not returned the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Five LGBTQ detainees released from ICE custody in Ariz.

Immigration Equality earlier this week demanded ICE release detainees with HIV in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is among the other groups that have also demanded ICE release detainees who are at heightened risk for the disease.

ICE on Monday released five LGBTQ asylum seekers from two Arizona detention centers. Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who received asylum in the U.S., was in ICE custody for a nearly a year until his release from River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Ferriday, La., on March 4.

The Louisiana Department of Health says there are currently 2,746 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Statistics indicate 119 people have died from the disease in Louisiana.

There is one confirmed coronavirus case in Winn Parish.

“Social distancing at Winn is virtually impossible,” reads the letter. “Winn is primed to have COVID-19 spread through the detained population like wildfire. It will be devastating and deadly. This is especially true for the already vulnerable LGBTQI/HIV+ immigrant population. Medically vulnerable detainees, especially LGBTQI/HIV+ migrants and those who are otherwise immunocompromised, should be released immediately.”

ICE on its website notes two detainees in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus. There are also five confirmed coronavirus cases among ICE personnel who work at detention centers in Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.

ICE on its website also notes there are 19 confirmed coronavirus cases “among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.”

An ICE spokesperson with whom the Blade has previously spoken says the agency continues to take precautions to protect detainees and staff from coronavirus. These include the suspension of social visitation at all ICE detention centers and a requirement that lawyers, lawmakers and/or members of their staff wear disposable gloves, masks and eye protection when they enter these facilities.

ICE has also previously defended the treatment of LGBTQ detainees and those with HIV who are in its custody.

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

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

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