U.S. Government Says It Won't Move Trans Women To Frightening Prison

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images.
The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has changed its plans to house detained transgender immigrants in a notorious for-profit prison, according to Fusion.

In June, ICE announced plans to move detained trans women to a location where they would be housed alongside other women, and not men. The chosen location was Adelanto Detention Facility, a private prison in a remote area of California run by the GEO Group, a private corporation.

The canceled plans are a mixed blessing for the women. Transgender women housed in male prisons are highly vulnerable to assault and abuse while in prison. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice found that in 2011-12, nearly 27% of transgender inmates in local jails had been sexually victimized. In state and federal prison, that number was a staggering 39.9%. The Prison Rape Elimination Act requires that LGBTQ individuals be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they would be safer housed with women or men, but the reality is that the statute is a tepid protection at best.

The women in question are being held by immigration officials, not the judicial system, but the effect of detention is the same. A report by the Government Accountability Office into sexual abuse in immigration detention found that one in five cases of confirmed sexual abuse from 2009 to 2013 involved the victimization of transgender individuals.

But the move would not have assured safety. When ICE announced its plans to relocate the women in June, immigrant-rights groups quickly spoke out against the choice of location as unsafe. The Adelanto Detention facility has been in the news frequently for what activists allege are multiple incidents of abuse and neglect of detainees. Earlier this year, an immigrant who experienced “unusual bleeding” and other symptoms was denied medical care for weeks, and eventually died three days after being hospitalized. In late October, inmates at Adelanto launched a hunger strike in pursuit of better medical care, respectful treatment, and a grievance system that bypasses the GEO corporation. A handwritten letter stating the strikers’ demands read, in part, “We are humans who have the misfortune of being detained.”

ICE has told Fusion that it is not canceling the plans to rehouse the women entirely, but rather reevaluating the choice of facility. A spokesman for the department said that ICE is still searching for a facility willing to adopt the agency’s transgender-care contract.

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