Members of Congress Call on Obama Administration to Investigate LGBT Abuse in Immigration Detention System, Improve Protections for Vulnerable Immigrants

July 11, 2011

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and 36 other members of Congress for speaking out to defend the rights of sexual minorities in immigration detention.

The representatives sent a letter on June 29 to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for investigations into civil rights complaints filed by NIJC in April on behalf of 13 gay and transgender immigrants who suffered discrimination, abuse, and medical neglect in DHS custody.

“We are grateful to members of Congress who are holding the Obama administration accountable to protect the health and safety of people in its custody,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, NIJC executive director. “Our government must put an end to human rights violations in our prison system.”

The representatives urge DHS to review the contracts of the detention facilities implicated in the abuse allegations and to “quickly draft standards that will protect sexual minorities and other vulnerable immigrants in DHS custody.” DHS should implement alternatives to detention if its investigation determines that the U.S. government is unable to ensure the safety of detained LGBT immigrants, the letter states.

The letter also calls on DHS and the Department of Justice to apply the protections of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to detention facilities that hold immigrants. The Obama administration has refused to apply PREA’s protections and zero-tolerance policy against prison sexual assault to immigration detention facilities.

Since filing the 13 civil rights complaints, NIJC has learned of at least 10 additional LGBT immigrants who have suffered abuse in detention centers across the country. Five people who participated in the original mass complaint remain detained. An update about the growing movement to defend detained LGBT immigrants is available at www.immigrantjustice.org/blog/ocrclupdate.

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit www.immigrantjustice.org.