Transgender individuals face a double whammy when it comes to being jailed in immigration detention centers, not only for being undocumented but also because their gender identity isn’t officially defined within the prison system, according to victims and activists.
“I don’t wish it on anybody, it’s like dying while you’re still alive,” said María, 32, a Mexican transgender woman who came to live in New York 10 years ago, fleeing the persecution that she suffered in Mexico City.
María said she experienced “true hell” while she was held at an immigration jail over a five-month period in 2010 after being detained in Pennsylvania, where she was put in solitary confinement.
Karina Claudio, a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, affirmed that her organization frequently receives reports of persecution from transgender individuals.
She said that “in order to prevent transgender people from being put in solitary confinement, in immigration jails they should be placed with inmates of the gender they identify with.”
Janeth, 26, is another Mexican transsexual who, towards the end of 2011, was imprisoned at a detention center. Not only was she put in solitary confinement; she also didn’t have access to the hormones that she needs to take daily.
“I felt like I was going to die because if I don’t take more hormones I stop feeling like a woman,” said Janeth, who is in the process of deportation.
The story of Isabella, 34, is no different. In 2012, she was held at a center in Louisiana for eight months. She was constantly ridiculed each time she asked for a bra for her prosthesis.
“They told me that men don’t use those things,” she said.
A counselor at a detention center in New Jersey – who asked not to be identified – said that the treatment of people in solitary confinement is inhumane.
“There are many violations of human rights. One of them is that inmates in solitary confinement are forced to take tranquilizers in order to keep them calm.”
The counselor said that during the first trimester of this year, at least 10 transsexuals – all of them Latina – were pressured into signing documents for voluntary deportation.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) did not respond to requests for comment on the situation of transgender inmates.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, legal director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, said, “Ironically, the circumstances of the undocumented are worse when compared to people who have been charged with some kind of felony.”
At the beginning of 2012, after receiving various complaints of abuse, ICE created the protective custody unit for gay and transgender individuals at the detention center in Santa Ana, California, the only one of its kind in the nation.