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ICE creating transgender unit to improve conditions for illegal detainees

(Photo: Eric Gay, AP)

(Photo: Eric Gay, AP)

Federal immigration authorities plan to construct a separate unit for housing transgender detainees in a new facility that is currently under construction in Alvarado, Texas.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the facility, called The Prairieland Detention Center, is expected to open in November and will house 700 detainees with 36 beds reserved for transgender detainees. According to a report filed by Human Rights Watch in March, ICE estimates that approximately 65 migrants out of 30,000 detained by authorities on any given day are transgender women.

This report from the Human Rights Watch noted that transgender women have suffered violence and attacks in the past while housed with men. The report states, “Until recently, transgender women in immigration detention were routinely held in men’s detention facilities, where many have been sexually assaulted and routinely harassed by male detainees and guards — the same kinds of abuses that drive many transgender women to flee their home countries in the first place.”

But now, detainees will be able to speak for themselves in regard to their preferred gender.

When detainees arrive at the facility, they will be asked about their gender in order to ensure appropriate accommodations. Until this point, only one other facility will have transgender accommodations, and it is located in Santa Ana, California. That facility has separate units for transgender women and gay men.

According to Flor Bermudez, a director at the Transgender Law Center, until last year, the government had no protocol for handling transgender detainees. But in June 2015, the ICE issued a guide outlining new protocol for strip searches, clothing options, medical care, and housing assignments.

Adam Frankel, one of the researchers who helped compile the Human Rights Watch report on Santa Ana, told Quartz, “Often the issue with immigration detention conditions is that a policy can be sent out, but it is often not carried out in the facilities due to lack of oversight and proper training.”

However, ICE hopes that the new units will make transgender detainees feel safer.

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