Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday demanded the release of LGBTQ people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Louisiana.
Immigration Equality, Trans [email protected] Coalition, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gender Justice LA, VisibiliT, Al Otro Lado and the Detained Migrant Solidarity
Committee sent a
letter to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, Acting Secretary of Homeland
Security Chad Wolf and other officials on behalf of LGBTQ people and people
with HIV who are detained at the Winn Correctional Center.
LaSalle Corrections operates the facility that is roughly 100 miles southeast of Shreveport, La., in the state’s Winn Parish.
The letter notes detainees have
said Winn Correctional Center staff have not taken the necessary precautions to
prevent the spread of coronavirus inside the facility.
LGBTQI/HIV+ clients at Winn are reporting troubling conditions specific to the
COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the letter. “They include lack of medical
attention for a detainee who had a days long fever, a sympton (sic) of
COVID-19, crowded conditions, and a lack of sanitation supplies for detainees
and staff alike.”
The letter notes one detainee has said staff as of March 20
“had not addressed COVID-19 concerns with immigrant detainees, including
failing to instruct detainees on handwashing and social distancing.” The
letter also indicates hand sanitizer is “not available” and ICE last
week transferred up to 35 detainees to the facility.
“Some dormitories have 50 people in the same room sharing one sink, one toilet and no meaningful access to medical attention or sanitation,” reads the letter.
The letter also documents “widespread abuse and
mistreatment of LGBTQI/HIV+ individuals” at the facility.
A transgender woman told the groups that she and another
trans detainee were “forced to share a shower and bathroom facilities with
nearly 50 cisgender men.”
The letter refers to another detainee who said staff last
Aug. 19 forced her to play soccer in the yard with a group of cisgender men.
The detainee claims one of the male detainees attacked her and broke her leg,
but an officer “refused to take a report.”
The letter refers to a trans woman who claims she has
“been forcefully pushed in the middle of her back by guards at least three
times, including when she was merely standing and reading her Bible.” It
also notes staff “regularly threaten transgender women with solitary confinement
for arbitrary reasons, such as interpreting for other detained
A gay detainee who is cited in the letter claims a guard
subjected him to homophobic harassment after he asked him a question in a
dining hall. The letter, among other things, also notes an officer threatened a
trans detainee “with physical harm, going as far as to say he would beat
to death any detained individuals who made him angry.”
The letter notes one detainee with HIV said he has
“experienced numerous interruptions to his antiretroviral regime”
while at the facility. The detainee also claims he has blood in his urine and suffers
from “kidney problems” because he does not receive his medications at
the same time each day.
The letter also notes ICE officers who oversee the detainees’ asylum cases “routinely ignore parole requests submitted by the individuals or their legal counsel.”
“The above information reflects the egregious
conditions at the Winn Correctional Center and reveals blatant homophobia,
transphobia, and a disregard for basic human safety,” reads the letter. “The
above-mentioned individuals have submitted regular complaints to DHS, all of
which remain unaddressed. In essence, these LGBTQI/HIV+ asylum-seekers are indefinitely
trapped in a detention center where they are at a heightened risk of medical
negligence, sexual harassment and disproportionate systemic violence.”
An ICE spokesperson has not returned the Washington Blade’s
request for comment.
Five LGBTQ detainees released from ICE custody in Ariz.
Immigration Equality earlier
this week demanded ICE release detainees with HIV in response to the
coronavirus pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is among
the other groups that have also demanded ICE release detainees who are at heightened
risk for the disease.
ICE on Monday released five LGBTQ asylum seekers from two Arizona detention centers. Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who received asylum in the U.S., was in ICE custody for a nearly a year until his release from River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Ferriday, La., on March 4.
The Louisiana Department of Health says
there are currently 2,746 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Statistics
indicate 119 people have died from the disease in Louisiana.
There is one confirmed
coronavirus case in Winn Parish.
“Social distancing at Winn is virtually
impossible,” reads the letter. “Winn is primed to have COVID-19
spread through the detained population like wildfire. It will be devastating
and deadly. This is especially true for the already vulnerable LGBTQI/HIV+
immigrant population. Medically vulnerable detainees, especially LGBTQI/HIV+
migrants and those who are otherwise immunocompromised, should be released
ICE on its website
notes two detainees in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus.
There are also five confirmed coronavirus cases among ICE personnel who work at
detention centers in Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.
ICE on its
website also notes there are 19 confirmed coronavirus cases
“among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.”
An ICE spokesperson with whom the Blade has
previously spoken says the agency continues to take precautions to protect
detainees and staff from coronavirus. These include the suspension of social
visitation at all ICE detention centers and a requirement that lawyers,
lawmakers and/or members of their staff wear disposable gloves, masks and eye
protection when they enter these facilities.
ICE has also previously
defended the treatment of LGBTQ detainees and those with HIV who are in its
A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement
and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans
detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms.
The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a
“respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires
detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other
trans-specific health care.