WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Vice-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and a founding member of the Transgender Equality Task Force, questioned Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tae Johnson, about the treatment of transgender individuals in ICE custody. Quigley urged Johnson to ensure that detainees can safely reveal their gender identity in custody and to improve training for ICE officials to reduce abuse against trans immigrants. The questioning came during a hearing on ICE Resource Management and Operational Priorities held by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
In January 2020, Quigley led over forty members of Congress in calling for ICE to release all transgender individuals in detention due to ICE's poor treatment of trans detainees. He again called for the release of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in last summer in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Video of Quigley's exchange with Johnson is available at www.youtube.com/watch and a transcript is available below:
QUIGLEY: Thank you for being here. Sir, I was one of the founding members of the Transgender Equality Caucus, so I think justifiably concerned about their care under ICE detention.
As of February 2019, ICE confirmed it was jailing more than 100 transgender individuals in 20 different immigration jails across the US.
Unfortunately immigration detention is notoriously dangerous and harmful for transgender immigrants, who are likely to be seeking asylum because of transphobic violence they've already faced or they fear and because of such histories they're likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and another mental health conditions.
Additionally, in 2017, a congressional inquiry revealed that LGBTQ people in ICE custody are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized than non-LGBT people in detention.
Sir, do you know how many people are currently in ICE custody who identify as transgender and which facilities they are detained in?
JOHNSON: Sir, I do not have that information in front of me but it is certainly something I can, I can run down
QUIGLEY: Our advocates report that many transgender individuals in ICE, they don't reveal their identity because they fear they will be subject to segregation and other harms, can you tell us a little bit about the training and protocols in place to ensure that individuals coming into custody are provided a safe and protected opportunity to reveal their gender and their orientation to ICE?
JOHNSON: Absolutely upon intake individuals are asked a series of questions and one of the questions is how they identify, so there are a number of opportunities along the way for individuals to sort of reveal their LGBTQI status to the officer at any point in the process.
There's also the detention reporting and information line where if they don't feel comfortable reporting it to the officer, they can report it to our hotline, or they can report it during their medical screening when they're in front of a medical professionals and not officers.
We have made some efforts on sort of improving our training and identifying specific facilities which would focus on housing these individuals in a less restrictive environment but there's always more work we can do.
We're looking at all aspects of our vulnerable population to include transgender, and this is going to continue to be a priority for us as we move forward in assessing our detention framework.
QUIGLEY: And obviously there have been horrors told about transgender individuals being abused in these facilities, so it just seems obvious that the training needs to be pretty dramatically expanded and altered to make sure that the culture understands that these abuses are not going to be tolerated and if anything, extra protection needs to be afforded to those who identify to all of yours.
Are there plans to expand what you're talking about even more?
JOHNSON: Yes, definitely some work is underway to figure out as I mentioned how to deal with various segments of our vulnerable population to include transgender...identifying other alternatives where that is possible.
As you may be aware, I mean some individuals that are transgender have pretty serious criminal convictions, and it's you know that's one area where we are just trying to evaluate some of the mitigating factors that come with some of these cases, like their special vulnerabilities, compared to the public safety threat that they actually post, but we're going to continue to sort of dig into that issue and see where we can make improvements.
QUIGLEY: If you could get back to us on that as well as my initial question about the number of transgender individuals and where they are located and any plans and how those plans are coming moving forward for additional improved training and care, I appreciate it.