In immigration detention, my transgender client Raimunda (not her real name) faced a bleak choice: she could remain housed with other detainees in the male “general population,” where she had twice been attacked by other detainees simply for being a transgender woman or she could be placed in closely-monitored “protective custody” which was described to her as a “non-punitive status in which restricted conditions of confinement are required only to ensure [her] safety.”
Fearful for her safety, Raimunda chose “protective custody.”
There, she was housed with mentally ill detainees and accused sex offenders. Her telephone and recreational privileges were limited to what she could fit within an hour each day. At times, she was simply denied the use of the telephone at all. Distressed at her new isolation and terrified by her inability to call acquaintances to collect crucial evidence for her asylum case, she requested to be placed back in general housing. However, detention authorities denied her request and continued her involuntary placement in protective custody. Only after Immigration Equality intervened on her behalf did detention authorities honor her request to be re-housed in the general population.
Altogether, Raimunda spent about two and a half months in the euphemistically named “Close Custody Special Housing Unit.”
As a transgender woman housed against her will in isolation in immigration detention, Raimunda is by no means alone. National Immigrant Justice Center and Physicians for Human Rights recently released a report criticizing the widespread use of segregation and solitary confinement in the immigration detention system — Invisible in Isolation. The report documents numerous accounts of individual experiences like Raimunda’s, and provides sensible recommendations against the use of solitary confinement.. For many asylum seekers like Raimunda, being held in isolation retraumatizes the victim of past persecution and makes it more difficult for the applicant to prepare her case.
Former Immigration Equality policy intern Daniel Rotman has made a film, Transgression, which features another Immigration Equality client who endured months in solitary confinement in a detention center in Louisiana. Far from her loved ones and legal resources back home in New York City, Norma was driven to such despair in detention that she hit her head repeatedly against the wall of her cell.
Transgression has been named as a finalist in the 2012 Forum Short Film Competition on October 25 at Fordham University. Congratulations to Daniel, you can watch the film below.