LGBT advocates in Los Angeles gathered in front of the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office Thursday afternoon to demand the release of a transgender woman who was allegedly raped at an immigration detention center.
Marichuy Leal-Gamino, 23, claims she was raped by her male cellmate last month at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona after telling guards she feared for her safety.
“Marichuy complained for weeks that her cellmate was making lewd comments and that she felt unsafe; guards told her to just ‘deal with it,’” said Olga Tomchin, of the Transgender Law Center.
An ICE spokesperson confirmed Leal-Gamino was a detainee at the Eloy Detention Center but would not comment on any additional details, noting the federal agency has requested the local police department investigate the alleged rape.
“Due to the ongoing investigation, we are not going to be able to discuss anything specific to the allegations,” said ICE spokesperson Amber Cargile.
ICE did however acknowledge Leal-Gamino's gender as female, raising unanswered questions about why she was incarcerated with a male cellmate to begin with.
“Ms. Leal-Gamino first came to ICE attention in February 2013 while she was incarcerated at the Arizona Department of Corrections for a felony conviction of solicitation to possess a dangerous drug (methamphetamine),” ICE's Cargile said in a statement to Fusion.
ICE says they have guidelines to keep all detainees safe, including transgender inmates. But they did not comment on why Leal-Gamino was put in cell with a man.
"There's a total lack of competence dealing with transgender women and survivors of trauma,” Tomchin charged. “ICE has shown over and over that they have failed to keep transgender women safe.”
“ICE is firmly committed to providing for the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. ICE has a strict zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities, and takes any allegations of such mistreatment very seriously,” Cargile said.
ICE detention standards requires staff to "consider the detainee's gender identification" when making housing decisions, and assess the possible "effects of placement on the detainee's health and well-being."
“Ms. Leal-Gamino has declined ICE’s offer to place her in protective custody or to otherwise relocate her within the facility. Should she request to be moved within the facility or to be placed in protective custody, ICE would grant the request at any time,” noted the ICE spokesperson.
The Eloy Detention Center is run by Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit company contracted by ICE. One ICE employee is assigned to the detention center to ensure compliance with government standards, including guidelines for sexual abuse and assault prevention.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants held in immigration detention facilities are 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a 2013 study by the Center for American Progress, a progressive research group based in Washington.