Immigration officials say they have abandoned their plan to detain transgender immigrants at a detention facility in the high desert community of Adelanto.
The facility would have been the first detention center in the nation to house transgender women alongside other female detainees.
Some immigrant rights activists called the decision a victory, but others said they wouldn’t be satisfied until immigration officials release all lesbian, gay and bisexual detainees.
“I cannot celebrate until my trans sisters are immediately released and safe. The inhumane treatment we receive inside detention centers creates severe trauma and makes it more difficult to reintegrate into society,” said Jennicet Gutiérrez, a leader with Los Angeles-based Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.
Currently, the majority of transgender immigration detainees are housed at the Santa Ana City Jail. Transgender women are detained alongside men where immigrant rights activists report that this population suffers disproportionate cases of abuse.
Amid mounting pressure on their treatment of female transgender detainees, ICE released new guidelines in late June allowing them to be housed in facilities that match their gender identity. Soon after, ICE officials announced they would house a certain group of transgender detainees alongside women in Adelanto — a step toward meeting their revamped guidelines.
But immigrant rights groups were opposed to Adelanto from the start, arguing that housing transgender immigrant women in the Adelanto facility would harm a particularly vulnerable population. They said the location was too remote and far away from attorneys who could help with their cases. In addition, they alleged that the detainees would be at risk of receiving subpar medical care, citing past allegations of medical neglect.
“Adelanto would have kept transgender immigrants hours away from legal counsel and community support, making it nearly impossible for advocates to ensure accountability at the facility,” said Aaron C. Morris, Immigration Equality’s legal director. “While we continue to advocate for alternatives to detention as the only safe option for LGBT immigrants, taking Adelanto off the table is an enormous victory for our community.”
The decision to no longer pursue Adelanto as a site for housing female transgender detainees was made late this summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Wednesday.
"After further analysis, ICE decided that another facility in our Los Angeles area of responsibility was not necessary to house the transgender population at this time,” she said.
Kice said ICE officials try to guarantee the safety and welfare of all immigrant detainees and are in constant communication with facility officials they contract with to make sure the sites are equipped for specific populations such as transgender immigrants.
The immigration agency’s reversal on Adelanto comes at a time when members of the LGBT community are at the forefront of the immigrant rights movement and are increasingly raising concerns about this particularly vulnerable group of immigrants.
Of the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally, more than 267,000 are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a 2013 report by the Williams Institute, a gender identity and sexual orientation think tank at UCLA.
Many suffered persecution in their home countries because of their sexual identity and allege humiliation and mistreatment at U.S. immigration detention centers.
The Adelanto facility, which is run by Florida-based Geo Group, has come under increased scrutiny after allegations of medical neglect.
A letter sent to ICE by members of Congress in July highlighted nearly a dozen cases of suspected neglect, including the 2012 pneumonia death of a Mexican immigrant named Fernando Dominguez. An inspection report that year by the Department of Homeland Security said that Dominguez “received an unacceptable level of medical care” at Adelanto, and that his death could have been prevented.
In recent weeks, the Adelanto facility has become the fourth immigrant detention facility in the United States where detainees have gone on hunger strike, refusing food to protest the worsening conditions at the facility.