LGBT Detainees at Increased Risk for Abuse and Mistreatment

WhenAlejandro Cortez-Reyna, a transgender immigration detainee in California,questioned why recreation time for LGBT noncitizens was reduced to less thantwo hours, the guard responded, "Because you need to learn not to be afaggot."

Unfortunately,this was not an isolated incident. Several egregious examples of abuse of LGBTdetainees, including sexual and physical assault, prolonged isolation, andwithholding of medical care, have been documented in two reports this year. TheACLU recently documented extensive abuse of immigration detainees in Arizona,including examples of specific and targeted abuse of LGBT individuals. And in April, theNational Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed 13 complaints of abuse of LGBTdetainees with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office of CivilRights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General. 

These andother accounts paint an extreme and horrific picture of the impact that USimmigration detention system has on LGBT detainees. Ironically, many aredetained awaiting decisions on their applications for asylum based onpersecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

NIJC’sreport describes instances of homophobic abuse directed at LGBT detainees. AtTheo Lacy, a prison in Orange County, California, guards harassed atransgender, HIV-positive individual with anti-gay epithets and jokes about herdying of AIDS. The report further alleges that guards withheld HIV medicationfrom HIV-positive noncitizens and forced an HIV-positive detainee to have bloodpainfully drawn from the veins in the back of his hands so they did not have tounshackle him, despite protests from the physician.

For LGBTdetainees like Cortez-Reyna, many of whom are seeking asylum for persecution onthe basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, abuse during detentionis all too common. As the immigration detention web continues to expand,ensnaring more people who are held indefinitely while their cases are pending, theplight of LGBT detainees is worsening. DHS needs to reform the way detaineesare housed, ensure that detention periods are as short as possible, and providespecial protection to the vulnerable LGBT population. Until then, stories like Cortez-Reyna’swill multiply, and safe haven in the US from persecution will only be anunrealized dream.

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