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LGBTQ Report Abuse in ICE Custody, ACLU Investigating

Free Our Future. Families Belong Together. Abolish ICE. March and Day of Action Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 30, 2018 (photo by Fibonacci Blue)
Free Our Future. Families Belong Together. Abolish ICE. March and Day of Action Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 30, 2018 (photo by Fibonacci Blue)

The ACLU is looking into reports of abusive treatment of transgender women and gay men at an ICE detention center near Chaparral, New Mexico.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) authored a letter released on March 25 in which lawyers requested a consultation with the officers at Otero County Processing Center to address the verbal, physical and emotional abuse described by multiple LGBTQ asylum-seekers.

“The conditions we have documented over the past several weeks raise serious questions about Otero and ICE’s compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards, and the U.S. Constitution,” wrote the lawyers from ACLU-NM, in conjunction with the Sante Fe Dreamers Project and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “ICE’s practices at Otero have created an unsafe environment for transgender women and gay men who are detained there.”

Representatives from the three legal organizations met with individuals at Otero and documented reports of unsafe sleeping spaces and withheld medical care, as well as repeated use of solitary confinement, at times perceived as a source of retaliation for reporting abuse.

The 12 individuals reporting the abusive conditions are asylum-seekers in the United States, and some of them fled their homes due to persecution of their gender and sexual identities.

ICE guidelines limit the use of solitary to situations when no other secure housing can be provided to persons at threat of being sexually assaulted or abused. But at Otero Processing Center and in detention centers nationwide, transgender women and gay men in ICE custody reported extensive time spent in solitary confinement.

“When I complained, I was thrown into solitary confinement for five days and threatened with further punishment if I complained again,” said W., a 20-year-old gay man who fled Honduras and rampant persecution. “Now that I am released from custody, I am free to speak up because I do not fear retaliation.”

In 2018, 37 members of Congress delivered a letter to ICE detailing similar allegations and reports from detained LGBTQ individuals throughout the nation. Many had their hormone treatments denied from them. 13 percent of the 300 transgender people detained in the 2017 fiscal year were kept in solitary confinement.

Otero is a 1,000-bed detention center, owned and operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC), one of the nation’s larger private prison companies.

ICE internal documentation indicates the facility receives anywhere from $91.03-$117.71 per day for any person detained by ICE, according to a 2018 report by the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.

MTC operates two other ICE detention centers: the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California, and the IAH Detention Center in Livingston, Texas.

ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa did not respond to the allegations, but said that all detention facilities follow national standards and agency mandates for medical care and safety, including that of LGBTQ detainees.

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