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LGBTQ Immigrant Detention Termed "Fundamentally Unsafe"

PHOTO: Transgender immigrants often end up in isolation cells because they are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted while being held in immigration detention. Photo credit: Andrew Bardwell/Flickr.
PHOTO: Transgender immigrants often end up in isolation cells because they are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted while being held in immigration detention. Photo credit: Andrew Bardwell/Flickr.
August 10, 2015

NEW YORK - Fundamentally unsafe, that's how New York immigrant advocates describe daily life for people in detention who identify as gay, lesbian or transgender.

Detention staff attorney Clement Lee with the group Immigration Equality says people who flee to the U.S. border because they fear persecution based on sexual identity almost always end up being placed in detention by Homeland Security.

The cruel irony is, these asylum-seekers end up in unsafe detention conditions because of their sexual identity. Lee says transgender people are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in immigration detention.

"Gay men are 10 times more likely to face sexual assault," says Lee. "If the Department of Homeland Security can't detain lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people safely, it should not detain them at all. "

Lee says the system is so overloaded that asylum cases that begin this year likely will not be resolved until 2018 at the earliest, putting LGBT detainees at significant risk. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is on record saying it is committed to developing new standards to protect vulnerable detainees.

Jamila Hammami, executive director with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, says the Department of Homeland Security has a strict quota to fill more than 400 beds in New York every night. She says that provides a perverse incentive for law enforcement to detain immigrants for very minor offenses.

"There are so many stories of queer youth jumping turnstiles to get on the train, and then ending up in immigration detention and then in deportation - which is absurd," says Hammami.

Vanessa "B" is a transgender New Yorker who says she fled Mexico in fear of her life, and was able to win her case for asylum in 2014.

"If I stay in my country, probably somebody kill me; maybe I never get a good job," she says. "This country is better, I love this country and the police help you, the organizations help you."

Lee says queer youth locked up for minor offenses in such suburban areas as Long Island are more likely to end up being transferred to immigration detention. While the U.S. does not guarantee legal counsel for asylum-seekers, he says those with a lawyer are six times more likely to be granted asylum.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY