When Immigration Equality attended an LGBT “Listening Session” at the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, along with a broad group of LGBT and immigration rights groups, it seemed that DHS was hearing, literally for the first time, about the special vulnerabilities and abuses that LGBT detainees face every day, including: administrative segregation (isolation); lack of transition related medical care; and homophobic and transphobic verbal, physical and sexual abuse by other detainees and detention staff. After more than two years of coalition work, it is gratifying to see that many of the recommendations by Immigration Equality and our allies have been included in ICE’s new Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS).
Some of the improvements include:
• Recognizing transgender detainees as a vulnerable population and recognizing (somewhat less clearly) that detainees may be vulnerable because of their sexual orientation;
• Ensuring that any strip searches of transgender detainees be conducted in private;
• Not determining whether to house transgender detainees with males or females based solely on their physical anatomy; and
• Allowing transgender detainees who received hormone therapy before detention to continue hormone therapy.
While it is important to celebrate our victories when they come, it is more important to keep fighting. Immigration Equality has consistently advocated for DHS to utilize alternatives to detention for vulnerable populations, including LGBT people. Despite improvements within the detention system, it is unjust to hold individuals who have violated civil immigration laws in prison-like conditions. More humane conditions are an important step forward, but we must all continue to work towards an end to immigration detention.