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Tell Homeland Security to protect immigrant detainees from abuse!

December 16, 2011

There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that the Department of Justice is taking important steps to protect LGBT people from sexual abuse in prisons and jails. The bad news is that the Department of Homeland Security thinks immigrants don’t deserve protection from sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities.

The Department of Justice is in the process of developing regulations to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a law passed with broad bipartisan support during the Bush administration. It is designed to end the systemic and extremely harmful incidence of prison rape. The proposed regulations would put in place several critical protections for prisoners, which will have an especially great impact on transgender and lesbian, gay, and bisexual prisoners.

Department of Homeland Security balks at protecting immigrant detainees

The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t want these same protections to apply to immigrant detainees. Its refusal to protect immigrant detainees is a problem because in prison and immigration detention facilities, LGBT people, especially transgender people, are often targeted for rape and abuse. And often, nothing is done to address the problem. Consider this:

  • The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission identified LGBT people as among the most vulnerable in detention settings.
  • The National Immigrant Justice Center has filed 17 complaints in recent months with the Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights office on behalf of LGBT detainees who have suffered mistreatment, many of whom were sexually abused in detention.
  • The ACLU of Arizona recently issued a report that discussed the pattern of abuse and failure to protect LGBT people in immigration detention, and has also filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of one transgender woman abused at a detention center in Eloy, Ariz.
  • And last week Esmerelda Soto, another trans woman, shared written testimony about her own experience of abuse in detention during a congressional briefing hosted by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va).

Many national LGBT organizations submitted comments to the Department of Justice early this year regarding the adoption of national regulations to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act. These groups included the National Center for Transgender Equality, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and others. In response to the concerns of the LGBT community and others, there will be strong rules to address the epidemic of sexual abuse in prisons and jails, including specific requirements aimed at protecting LGBT and intersex people.

You can help!

The Department of Homeland Security is vigorously resisting any effort to apply these rules to the abuse-ridden facilities housing tens of thousands of immigrant detainees.

The Task Force encourages people to send a message to the Department of Homeland Security telling the agency that the protections under the Prison Rape Elimination Act are humane and important for immigrant detainees, especially LGBT detainees.

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