Being an immigrant demands vulnerability, trust, and bravery. Especially when it is escaping harm and prejudice. For transgender women it is even harder, not only are they fleeing abuse most of the time they experience similar abuses when in immigration facilities.
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Transgender women are sexually assaulted, denied medical care, and go through substantial psychological trauma while detained . The Human Rights Watch in the report about the mistreatment of these women explains why people are put into these detention centers. In the past two decades, the United States has made a major shift in immigration policy, using detention as a primary means of enforcement, regardless of whether an individual non-citizen is a flight risk or a danger to the community(Do you see..). It could have nothing to do if the person broke any laws or not, but they are still treated like criminals.
Transgender women are housed in these facilities waiting for immigration courts to decide if they will be able to stay in the country or not. So, they are waiting to see if they meet the qualifications for the protection they are applying for. Immigrants coming from the countries of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala apparently have little of what is considered plausible fear, which is what allows them to apply for asylum or the other various options for protection (0.1- 5.5 percent according to Human Rights Watch). If they’re fear is not considered plausible they wait in the detention centers until it is determined and can be proven that their situation is bad enough to be awarded asylum. Nonviolent crimes also cause immigrants to be in mandatory custody. According to Human Rights Watch, Among the transgender women that we interviewed, nearly half were mandated to detention because of mostly low-level criminal convictions, including sex work, false identification, and minor drug possession charges. While most of these convictions were so minor that they resulted in little or no prison time in the criminal justice system, they still mandated transgender women to be detained, often in settings where they experienced abuse and neglect.
In 2009 Obama set out to change the prison like appearances of these immigration detention centers to make them more civil. ICE has made some advancements meant to lower the rate of sexual assaults, especially when it comes to transgender women. In 2011 they added in a policy about strip searches that said that when there is an opportunity those who identify as transgender should have the ability to choose the gender of the guard conducting their search. A year later Obama made sure that ICE facilities used the Prison Rape Elimination Act and enforced all of its policies. However, this had little adherence since that most of the ICE facilities are privately owned. Obama still tried to enhance and improve the treatment of transgender individuals being held by creating specific guidelines meant to protect them. Since then ICE is encouraged to house transgender women in places that have adopted these guidelines of in places that have a seperate section just for people with this identity. Originally transgender women are housed in all male facilities where abuse and sexual harassment is all too common. Transgender women in these male facilities started to shift in 2015 when the Santa Ana City Jail had a seperate section for transgender women exclusively.
However, ICE still had and has the capability to house these women in male facilities if they see fit. With the possibility to be keep in solitary confinement for the duration of their time because it is believed to be the only way to keep them safe, which in turn can cause an extensive psychological damage. ICE has yet to come out with a policy to requires all transgender women to be housed in separate facilities than male detainees. All though the Santa Ana City jail housed trans women for two year they did not renew the contract in May 2017. This led to women being transported to the Cibola County Correctional Center which also adopted a different unit just for transgender women. However, these still are not safe environments for trans women. Hieleras or ice boxes are inhumane torture devices used by border patrol against immigrants. They are freezing cells in detention centers usually with concrete floors and benches. Immigrants are packed in these cells and are so cold they use mylar sheets to try to keep warm. In 2015 the court case Doe v. Johnson started fighting against these unsanitary and inhumane conditions. Being that detainees are not given beds while also sleeping by the toilets and are met with no access to sanitation such as having no soap and not being allowed to shower for the duration of their time spent in these holding cells.
The American Immigration council interviewed detainees and condensed their experiences, The plaintiffs in Doe v. Johnson, as well as over 100 other individuals interviewed, describe horrific conditions in CBP’s short-term detention facilities, including being stripped down to one layer of clothing and kept in extremely cold cells with often little more than a thin aluminum sheet to cover them(The American…). This is how transgender woman Roxana Hern- ndez died in the Cibola County Correctional Center located in New Mexico. She was held in one of these ice boxes and with the addition of not getting proper medication for her HIV caused pneumonia. Hern- ndez died of medical complications with that pneumonia. Isa Noyola is the deputy director of the Transgender Law Center and touches on the impact that this death had on the trans community.Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hern- ndez sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life. (Noyola). Abusive conditions are limitless for transgender women in these detention facilities. Detained immigrants are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse due various factors, including language barriers, isolation, and fear of retaliation by immigration authorities, including possible deportation (Do You See). Many of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had been sexually assaulted by male guards or the male detainees. An example of the horrid things these women had to go through interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Three Honduran men started touching themselves in front of me. They said, ?He thinks he’s a woman but he’s a faggot […] in our country, we kill these people.’ They made me feel bad and I started to cry. [After they raped me], the guard came to get me and took me to the [housing] pod.
She didn’t ask me if I was okay or if anything had happened.Immediately after the assault, Sara was assigned to the same housing unit as her perpetrators. After reporting the abuse to facility staff, she was transferred to a separate housing unit, where a guard told her: You [transgender women] are the ones that cause these problems and always call the men’s attention. The guards are not properly trained and having these women in male facilities is not only ridiculous but also dangerous. Some of the women reported that they had to shower in the same area as the male detainees, with multiple reports of sexual assault when trying to shower. Most of the time when they thought they were the only ones in the shower area. When reported to the guards they claimed they did not see or called the women crazy. Trans women also reported abuse by the guards especially in invasive strip searches. Almost all the women interviewed said that the guards and other detainees in male facilities verbally abused them.
So, it is no surprise when around half said that the guards ignored them and failed to take their reports seriously. Even when things were done to protect them from the other detainees did not mean they were protected from the guards. For example, After reporting the incident, Talia said a male guard escorted her to the restrooms so that she could shower at another time but that he would himself stare at her while she changed (Do You See) Transgender women deserve to feel safe and protected from the horrendous conditions they faced causing them to leave everything they have ever known. If the conditions in these facilities do not change these women should not be detained at all. Since they are continually detained they need beds, guards they can trust, access to medication, proper sanitation facilities, and access to resources for mental health.
This should be easily regulated since that ICE falls under a branch of the federal government. No one should died like Roxana Hern- ndez and many others have. It is 100 percent preventable, ICE needs to be held accountable for their treatment of human beings. More so since ICE deals with people who are already in an extremely vulnerable position.They should be given sensitivity training and at least have a person who knows and specializes transgender needs and rights. The number of these advocates for each location should depend on the capacity of transgender women in each unit.
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