ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – Theo Lacy guards repeatedly called Alexis – a transgender person who is HIV positive – an anti-gay epithet, made jokes about her dying of AIDS and singled her out for public searches where they forced her to remove her outer clothing and mocked her exposed breasts, according to formal complaints against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Those are among the allegations made in 13 complaints filed Wednesday against the Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General. The complaints – which only referred to individuals by their first names – demand the Obama administration investigate abuse allegations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are held in immigration custody.
Theo Lacy and Santa Ana Jail – both facilities that contract with ICE – were named in the complaints by the Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center. The Chicago-based advocacy group states that the complaints aren’t based on isolated incidents by guards but instead a systematic issue that includes common practice at facilities.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Orange County Sheriff’s department sent statements that they would look into the matter.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency plans to review the complaints, investigate and address the claims made.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes any allegations of mistreatment or abuse very seriously,” Kice said in a written statement. “ICE remains firmly committed to ensuring the health and welfare of all those in our custody and to providing the highest quality medical and mental healthcare available.”
Assistant Sheriff Mike James said in a written statement that he received a copy of the complaints Wednesday night but had not received any other complaints about the issue.
“We will be doing a complete and thorough investigation of the allegations in the complaints to determine if there is any validity to them. If we determine there is, we will take swift and immediate action,” he stated. “We will do this investigation in conjunction with ICE.”
The transgender, gay and bisexual people housed in ICE-owned or contracted facilities are detained because federal officials deem them removable from the country. Most are suspected of being in the country illegally. Others are legal immigrants who are suspected of committing a crime that has made them deportable.
Alexis, a Mexican native who was in the U.S. illegally, is one of 13 who filed complaints with the federal government. Alexis’ birth name is Alejandro Cortez-Reyna, according to an Associated Press report.
The documents allege that gay and transgender people in immigration detention were subject to systematic abuse and neglect while in facilities owned or contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
For instance, the complaints allege that Santa Ana Jail has a blanket policy to deny hormone treatment to transgender people in immigration detention.
At the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, transgender and gay individuals in immigration detention are segregated and kept in their cells for 22 hours per day, and have far less freedom to access recreation compared with the general population, according to one of the complaints.
Detainees are segregated from the general population for a variety of reasons, Kice said. Many times it’s for health and safety concerns, she added said.
As of Thursday afternoon, ICE has 204 detainees housed at the Santa Ana Jail and 440 detainees at Theo Lacy, Kice said.
Immigration officials don’t keep track of detainees by sexual orientation, she said, so it’s unclear how many detainees are transgender, gay or bisexual.
Some of the other facilities named in the complaints are: Houston Processing Center in Texas, McHenry County Jail in Illinois, Otero County Detention Center in New Mexico, York Detention Center in Pennsylvania, Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, El Centro Service Processing Center in California, Willacy County Processing Center in Texas, La Salle Detention Center in Louisiana, Krome Service Processing Center in Florida.
Alexis, who was ultimately released from Santa Ana Jail after a judge granted her immigration relief, was in detention from August to September of last year in Theo Lacy where she states that she was confined to her pod for 22 hours with only two hours for time shared in a common dayroom, one of the complaints states. In some instances, she did not receive any dayroom time.
On one occasion, Alexis asked an officer why the dayroom time was so short.
He responded by saying she needed to learn not to be gay, using an offensive term, according to the complaint.
In addition, Alexis stated that the transgender group wasn’t given toilet paper. When they’d ask why the officer would respond with the anti-gay epithet, the complaint stated.
A month later she was transferred to the Santa Ana Jail where she was also subject to mistreatment and discrimination, according to the complaint. In addition, Alexis was denied her HIV treatment and never got to see a doctor the entire five months she was in the facility, she stated.
Another detainee by the name of Monica also filed a complaint, stating that she was denied her hormone therapy at the Santa Ana Jail after taking it for a decade prior to her detention and becoming physically and psychologically reliant on it.
Alexis was released in February after a judge stayed her deportation because she’d likely face persecution in her homeland.
The Obama Administration has said repeatedly that it is looking to overhaul the immigration detention system after in-custody deaths and longstanding allegations of mistreatment.
Agency officials routinely meet with nongovernmental organizations, such as the National Immigrant Justice Center to discuss immigration detention.
“As a result of these discussions as well as the agency’s overall detention reform efforts, early last month ICE issued formal guidance to address the care and housing of vulnerable and special needs detainees,” Kice said.
The Department of Homeland Security has said that it would move away from contracting with local authorities to provide beds for its detainees.
However, in the fall of last year ICE and Orange County forged a contract to provide about 800 beds for immigration detainees at Theo Lacy and James Musick Facility near Irvine.
Critics of the department said the Orange County agreement is a departure from proposed overhauls aimed at reducing abuse within its detention system.
They pointed to the various allegations of in-detention deaths and inhumane treatment of detainees at municipal jails that contract with ICE.
from The OC Register