Feds Boost Trans Rights in Immigration Lockups

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Updated guidelines released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement demand that officials ask transgender detainees whether they would feel safer being held with men or women.
     “Discrimination or harassment of any kind based on a detainee’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is strictly prohibited,” the 18-page guidance publicized Monday states.
     Of the more than 30,000 U.S. immigration detainees, the government identifies roughly 60 as transgender, but this tally predates data-collection procedures for gender identity that the new guidance, dated June 19, mandates for the first time.
     Notably, ICE ordered its enforcement and removal office to “add a data field, which may be in the form of a check-box, to record if the detainee identifies as ‘Transgender.'”
     ICE’s guidance includes a script described as “appropriate, but not required” for questioning detainees about their gender identities.
     Emphasizing that the queries should be seen as voluntary, officials are encouraged to ask: “Do you wish to disclose your gender identity?”
     “The detainee shall not be disciplined for refusing to answer any gender identity-related questions during processing, for not disclosing complete information in response to questions asked about gender identity, or for falsely reporting that he or she is not transgender,” the guidance states.
     Officials are encouraged to question transgender immigrants about their preferred name, pronouns, medical issues, grooming requirements, and housing and programming preferences in the 12-question script.
     Human-rights groups have long complained that transgender immigrants are uniquely vulnerable to rape and abuse behind bars, a problem authorities have tried to address in the past by isolating these detainees in solitary confinement under the guise of protecting them.
     The new guidance emphasizes that placement in “segregation” should be “used only as a last resort.”
     While ICE official Thomas Homan said in a statement that the guidance “reaffirms” the agency’s commitment to “provide a safe, secure, and respectful environment for all those in our custody,” the agency’s treatment of transgender individuals is a frequent point of criticism.
     Three years ago, the special rappateur on torture for the United Nations found ICE in violation of an international convention for stonewalling of his inquiries about allegations that 16 gay and transgender detainees had been tortured.
     Such allegations mirror the broader experiences of transgender people under incarceration.
     In 2009, a study of California prisoners found that 59 percent of male-to-female transgender prisoners were sexually assaulted in all-male prisons, and zero percent trusted their guards to protect them.
     Days before the public release of the new guidance, transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez disrupted a speech at the White House that President Barack Obama gave for a June 24 Pride Month event.
     Responding to Gutiérrez’s shouts of “I am a trans woman” and “not one more deportation,” Obama raised his finger before scolding: “Listen, you’re in my house.”
     Gutiérrez, a founding member of the group Familia QTLM, continued to shout her organization’s slogan “Not one more deportation” in English and Spanish before Obama called security to eject her from the building.
     While some saw a link between that event and the public release of the guidance on Monday, ICE’s memorandum is dated nearly a week before that event, and its guidance is said to be the product of a “six-month agency working group.”
     On Twitter, Gutiérrez told ICE that “we don’t need guidelines.”
     “We need our freedom,” she tweeted.
     The National Center for Transgender Equality echoed that point in a statement calling upon the Obama administration to “release transgender detainees for whom being in detention makes them a target of sexual assault and violence.”
     “Though the guidance represents a significant improvement in how transgender immigration detainees will be treated, ICE’s record on implementing guidance such as this is mixed,” Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, an adviser for that group, wrote.
     ICE’s press materials describe the contract modification for transgender care as “voluntary.”
     Santa Ana City Jail, known as the hub for transgender detainees, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it has implemented the voluntary procedures.
     The proliferation of privately run immigration prisons that began in the 1980s during the wars in Central America intensified as the U.S. government embarked on a still-continuing campaign to privatize government services.
     Formalizing procedures that cropped up under the Ronald Reagan administration, former President Bill Clinton signed two laws in 1996 that saw the rapid expansion of private immigration detention centers and detainees.
     ICE owns only five of the roughly 200 facilities that dot the nation.

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