This past week there have been two stories that have dominated the LGBTQ newsfeeds — the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage and the shushing and attempted silencing of trans Latina activist Jennicet Gutiérrez as she called out President Obama for the absolutely horrifying treatment of trans immigrants in US detention centers. While we all celebrated the marriage victory, and rightfully so, many people, including people who are members of the LGBTQ community or allies, were also trying to shame Gutiérrez and push the extremely important issue that she brought up to the back of the room. The story won’t go away, however, and now there’s a new development. US Immigration officials released a memo detailing their plans to improve their placement and treatment of trans immigrants in their detention centers.
Although she was initially painted as just another heckler, shouting angrily at the president, Gutiérrez was trying to bring attention to a deadly-serious issue that affects many trans women of color, but doesn’t get anywhere near the media attention that other issues like same-sex marriage, so-called bathroom bills or even trans-women-exclusionary musical festivals get. Last Wednesday, Gutiérrez, a founding member of the LGBTQ Latin@ rights organization FAMILIA: TQLM shouted, “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention” and “I’m a trans woman, I am tired of the violence we’re facing” as the rest of the crowd at the White House LGBT reception boo’d her and cheered when the president said “Not in my house” and Gutiérrez was taken out of the building.
On Monday, less than a week after the “heckling,” US Immigration officials announced that trans detainees will now be able to be housed in detention facilities that match their gender identity. This should go without saying, but detaining trans women with men is never a good idea. According to a recent investigation by Fusion, ICE detains about 75 trans immigrants each night, with 90% of those immigrants being trans women. They also found that transgender immigrants make up only about one out of every 500 ICE detainees, but account for one out of five sexual abuse cases while in detention.
While this announcement sounds like it’s solving a huge problem, there are still many issues. ICE detention centers aren’t safe for many reasons that these new recommendations don’t address. Several groups advocating for the rights of trans immigrants, including Familia: TQLM, Transgender Law Center, GetEQUAL and Southerners On New Ground (all organizations you can check out to find out more about how you can help trans and other LGBTQ detainees) released a statement with the #Not1More campaign about this announcement, saying that no one should expect this announcement to solve the problems of trans detainees.
A guidance document cannot be expected to change the fact that DHS and ICE have consistently failed at maintaining a minimum of safety and dignity for transgender immigrants. Transgender immigrants and other vulnerable populations, including mothers with their children and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) detainees, should be released from detention.
They continued to talk about US Immigration’s spotty history of actually following through on these kind of policy changes, saying that their “experience with guidance documents such as these is that their implementation is inconsistent and with little oversight or accountability.” The #Not1More campaign also has concerns that inhumane practices including “administrative segregation, ‘protective custody,’ and isolated pods” are still allowed and will continue to be used, leading to more abuse of detainees. Additionally, Isa Noyola at the Transgender Law Center told me that “ICE already has many policies in place that should already create ‘safe’ conditions inside detention centers like PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) that they have a difficult time implementing and enforcing” and that she sees “this announcement as minimal.”
“The amount of harm they have inflicted on our communities greatly outweighs these recs,” Noyola said. “TLC and many other LGBT immigrant rights organizations are continuing to push the demands of #Not1More deportation and for our LGBTQ immigrants to be released from detention and solitary confinement.”
Noyola says that there’s still a lot of work to be done. “On the ground immigrant rights organizers and the transgender community are building together and connecting the threads of our struggle with many unifying points. We have many more battles to win.”