From: The Honorable Raul M. Grijalva
Sent By: yesenia.chavez@mail.house.gov
Date: 6/18/2015

Co – Signers: Rep. Susan A. Davis, Re. Alcee L. Hastings, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Yvette D. Clarke, Rep. Michael E. Capuano, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, Tony Cárdenas, Mark Takano, Judy Chu, Juan Vargas, James P. McGovern,

Supported by: Supported by: National Center for Transgender Equality, United We Dream, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), National Lawyers Guild, United We Dream, Immigration Equality, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Transgender Law Center, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, The National Council of Jewish Women, Southerners On New Ground, Human Rights Watch, The National LGBTQ Task Force

Dear Colleague,

The prevalence of sexual abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants who are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody is alarming.

What is perhaps most troubling is that these detentions violate ICE’s own policies. ICE officers utilize the Risk Classification Assessment (RCA), which recommends that ICE officers process an immigrant for release if they fear any harm in detention based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found that ICE overrode explicit RCA recommendations in 19 percent of the cases for LGBT detainees. Furthermore, according to the Center for American Progress, in 81 of the 104 cases where an immigrant said they feared being put in detention because of sexual orientation or gender identity, ICE detained them anyway.

Immediate action is needed to protect this vulnerable population. Please join us in writing DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of detaining LGBT immigrants and clarify the implementation and adherence to RCA recommendations. The deadline to sign on to this letter is COB on Friday, June 20. For more information, please contact Robert Lucas (Rep. Honda) at 5-2631/ Robert.Lucas@mail.house.gov or Yesenia Chavez (Rep. Grijalva) at 5-2435/ Yesenia.Chavez@mail.house.gov.

Michael M. Honda Raúl M. Grijalva

Member of Congress Member of Congress

_______________________________________________________________________

June 22, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson

Secretary of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We write to express our concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants who are held in detention centers under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. These individuals, particularly transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities, are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody.

We understand the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have had conversations with LGBT immigrant advocates and community members for some years now in order to find a solution to this pressing situation. Recently, ICE formed a working group to review placement and safety issues for LGBT detainees and will be issuing recommendations for DHS’ consideration in the near future. As you review these recommendations, we strongly urge you to use existing discretion to release LGBT individuals from custodial detention and use parole or alternatives to detention to ensure the safety and appearance of this group throughout their immigration proceedings, such as supervised release and community placements, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Detention should almost never be used for vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants facing immigration proceedings. Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to ten times the rate of heterosexual men. The situation is starker for transgender detainees’. According to the BJS survey, one in three will be sexually abused within twelve months in custody. When viewing the trend of reported sexual assaults against this community in immigration detention, the Government Accountability Office in November 2013 found that transgender immigrants reported 20% of sexual assaults in ICE custody. This is deeply troubling given the fact that transgender individuals are estimated to be less than 1% of the general population.

ICE’s own intake system recognizes the risk LGBT immigrants face in detention and says they can release LGBT immigrants 70% of the time, however ICE officers consistently override this and use their discretion to detain anyway in 68% of those cases. A recent study conducted by the DHS Office of the Inspector General found that ICE overrode explicit Risk Classification Assessment recommendations in 7.6 percent of cases for the general population and in 19 percent of the cases for LGBT detainees.

ICE policies for years have recognized that LGBT immigrants, particularly those who are transgender, are in dangerous situations while detained, including DHS’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards. However, we understand that there has been no clear PREA implementation plan to date with respect to this population. This has led ICE to routinely segregate transgender women in men’s facilities in order to keep them safe, including the use of isolation and “GBT pods,” the latter being used more frequently in recent months. ICE must apply discretion to ensure that vulnerable populations are not subjected to an unacceptably high risk for sexual abuse.

We respectfully urge DHS and ICE to end the practice of detaining vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants. We believe ICE should consider an LGBT person’s detention as “not in the public interest,” per your enforcement priorities memo of November 20, 2014, due to the extraordinarily high risk of abuse in detention. Finally, we request DHS and ICE engage LGBT and immigrant civil rights groups to develop additional community-based alternatives to detention, for vulnerable populations. To address the concerns raised above, we have questions regarding ICE’s protocol for LGBT detainees:

1.What factors do ICE officers use to decide whether they will overrule the RCA’s recommendation or choose detention in the absence of an RCA recommendation when an immigrant has a special vulnerability such as LGBT status?

2.What steps has ICE taken, or will ICE take, to ensure that officers use discretion appropriately to keep vulnerable LGBT persons out of detention centers whenever possible?

3.What action has DHS taken, or will DHS take, towards effective oversight to ensure that ICE uses its discretion appropriately to keep vulnerable LGBT persons out of detention centers whenever possible?

We urge you to act swiftly to address these issues. The safety and security of many individuals depend on it. We look forward to collaborating on this pressing matter. If you have any questions, please have your staff contact Robert Lucas (Rep. Honda) and Yesenia Chavez (Rep. Grijalva).

Sincerely,

____________________________ ______________________________

Michael M. Honda Raúl M. Grijalva