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Immigrant Transgender Women Experience Harsher Treatment than Other People Once Detained: Report

First Posted: Mar 24, 2016 03:04 PM EDT
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Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new critical report on the treatment of transgender women detained in U.S. immigration detention facilities.

Risks for Immigrant Transgender Women

Despite fleeing their homes following sexual violence, threats and other forms of persecution and seeking protection in the U.S., immigrant transgender women are still victims of sexual assault and ill treatment while in U.S. detention. According to HRW, immigrant detention is difficult for anyone, but transgender women risk further trauma, not only as a result of abuse encountered in their native country, but also because of the lack of medical care.

Sometimes transgender immigrants are placed in solitary confinement or similar isolated treatment. Officials have previously justified the need for isolated settings for transgender women, stating isolation protects them from further abuse by others in detention.

"Until recently, transgender women in immigration detention were routinely held in men's detention facilities, where many have been sexually assaulted and routinely harassed by male detainees and guards-the same kinds of abuses that drive many transgender women to flee their home countries in the first place," wrote HRW in the report "Do You See How Much I'm Suffering Here?" The report adds the U.S. government should approve segregated units for transgender women by early 2016.

HRW, however, discovered the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, responsible for overseeing immigration detention, was unable to confirm if the policy in housing transgender women with men was abandoned. The problem isn't restricted to treatment from fellow detainees. Care must also be taken in selecting detention guards tasked with strip searches.

"It is important to emphasize that all of these problems exist in a detention setting that was created by the U.S. government with the express purpose of detaining transgender women in a humane and culturally sensitive environment," HRW reported.

"Many trans women arrive in the U.S. seeking protection from violent abuse in their home countries," said Adam Frankel, coordinator of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at HRW and author of the report. "Instead, they face further mistreatment under detention policies that put them needlessly at risk of violence and abuse."

Recommendations for U.S. Government

Similar to the calls from other immigrant rights groups and advocates, HRW recommends the U.S. government develop and expand alternatives to detention procedures for transgender women and fellow vulnerable immigrant populations.

HRW also calls for the government to review and revise immigration detention policies. The government needs to provide an "articulated" strategy to house transgender women in safe and humane conditions, HRW said, and these immigrants should never be confined with men or forced into prolonged solitary confinement.

Specifically addressing the Santa Ana City Jail, which had detained transgender women with men, HRW wants further investigations into potential abuse practices in the facility. The group also wants to ensure transgender women are free to access medical and mental health care services.

"If these problems cannot be promptly and comprehensively addressed, ICE should not continue to hold transgender women at the Santa Ana City Jail. ... If the US government is unable or unwilling to take all of these steps, it should not hold transgender women in immigration detention at all," wrote HRW.

To read the HRW report in Spanish, click here.

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