In November, U.S. immigration officials are opening a new detention facility in Central Texas that will include a special unit for housing transgender individuals. The $42 million facility, funded by taxpayer dollars, will be located 40 miles southeast of Dallas in Alvarado, Texas. The oldest city in Johnson County, Alvarado maintains a population of about 4,200.
The new immigration detention center will be the second in the nation to house transgenders separately. The other space exists in Santa Ana, Calif., which as of last week accommodated 28 transgender people.
The Texas facility will house roughly 700 illegal immigrants, including a separate 36-bed unit for transgenders, according to Carl Rusnok, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)
Emerald Correctional Management, a private prison corporation, will manage the new center, providing individualized detention plans for transgenders, “covering items such as searches, clothing options, hygiene practices, medical care and housing assignments,” noted Rusnok.
Trans women at risk for sexual assault in immigration facilities
Members of the LGBT community are the most at risk for physical and sexual assaults, says immigrant rights advocates, adding that all transgenders should be immediately released from detention centers.
“The new facility addresses a number of issues to better protect trans women, but immigrant rights leaders say any new detention center is a step in the wrong direction. The advocates want ICE to instead work more closely with community groups that could house trans women,” according to Fusion.net.
An estimated 65 transgender women are detained by immigration officials on any given night, according to ICE, the majority of which were apprehended at the U.S. border requesting asylum. The individuals are kept in the facilities until a judge makes a decision about their case.
An investigation by Fusion.net found that only 1 in 500 detainees are transgender; however, 1 in 5 detainees sexually assaulted in immigration centers are transgender.
Isa Noyola, the director of programs at the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center said transgender women housed in detention facilities are subject to “violence and unwarranted transphobic interactions with line staff and other folks in the facility.”
Feds focus on protecting transgenders
Last summer, House Representatives urged Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to exempt members of the LGBT community, who are in the country illegally, from being detained, ever.
In a letter penned to Johnson, they wrote that such “individuals are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody, in particular, transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities.”
The debate over transgender rights remains front and center in U.S. news, with the federal government’s recent involvement intensifying the conversation. The Obama administration unveiled a directive earlier this month coercing the nation’s school districts to allow transgenders to use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity.
While the directive is not legally binding, school districts refusing to comply may lose federal funding, for which they depend heavily, as well as face lawsuits.
Texas and 10 other states have challenged Obama’s directive through a string of lawsuits. The Lone Star State has accused the feds of turning the country’s workplaces and educational settings into “laboratories for a massive social experiment” that circumvents the democratic process.
The suit also states that Obama’s transgender bathroom directive erodes basic privacy rights. Lawsuits filed in Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Louisiana, Utah, Arizona and Georgia have made similar claims.