Activists confront Homeland Security secretary over transgender immigrant detentions

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday publicly acknowledged the government is detaining transgender immigrant women in the same holding cells as men after a Fusion investigation revealed a high percentage of sexual abuse and harassment cases with transgender victims in immigration detention facilities.

“We are aware of this,” Johnson replied when he was asked by members of an LGBT rights group, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, who confronted him as he left an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


“Why do LGBT folks continue to be placed in detention centers?” shouted an activist, Carlos Padilla, prompting Johnson’s response.

“We’ve seen that transgender women continue to be placed in detention with males… we continue to see solitary confinement used,” Padilla said. “What is your solution on this?” he asked.

Fusion’s investigation revealed the conditions under which trans asylum seekers are housed. The story found that transgender women locked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are routinely placed in male facilities, leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault.

On any given day, about 75 transgender detainees are housed by immigration authorities. Fusion found that 20 percent of confirmed sexual abuse cases in immigrant detention centers involve transgender victims. ICE also routinely houses transgender women in solitary confinement in the name of “protecting them.”

On Thursday, President Obama is expected to announce a plan to use his executive powers to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. LGBT immigrant rights advocates are concerned the president’s action will not extended to undocumented LGBT immigrants.

Several immigrant rights groups, including United We Dream and Immigration Equality, met with members of Congress on Wednesday to discuss including LGBT immigrants in any plan.

“As the President is about to announce his administrative relief package, his administration has time over time shown ineptitude to protect the well being of LGBT detainees in immigration detention centers,” Padilla told Fusion.