Transgender immigrant detainees are officially a campaign issue.
At a campaign stop in Nevada this week, Hillary Clinton signaled she would review policies that allow transgender women to be locked up in men’s immigration detention centers, putting them at risk for assault.
“I think we have to do more to provide safe environments for vulnerable populations,” Clinton said in response to a question about transgender immigrants being detained in institutions that don't correspond with their self-identified gender.
“I don't think we should, you know, put children and vulnerable people into big detention facilities because I think they are at risk. I think their physical and mental health are at risk,” Clinton said in response to another question about trans asylum seekers. She also noted that she would be in favor of changing some detention processes.
A 2014 Fusion investigation found some 75 transgender prisoners are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) every night. The majority of them are trans women who are placed in men's detention centers where the conditions are often humiliating, dangerous, and even deadly.
Even though transgender detainees only make a small portion of the close to 34,000 detainees held each night, trans victims made up one third of confirmed instances of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities, according to the Fusion investigation.
“This is an important issue in detention centers,” said Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a Guatemalan woman who says she was repeatedly assaulted during her six months in a men’s detention center while she waited for a judge to make a decision on her asylum case.
ICE officials have not responded directly to her allegations, citing privacy concerns.
Advocates expressed skeptical optimism in response to Clinton’s statements.
"While I am encouraged that Hillary Clinton is stating a desire to end the abuse of LGBTQ people within immigration detention, for too long we have seen the Obama administration profess these same goals on paper while continuing to oversee extreme human rights abuses against transgender immigrants in reality," noted Olga Tomchin, a staff attorney at the immigrant rights group National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
"Words are no longer enough."
Cristina is an Emmy-nominated reporter and producer. She recently won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for her documentary Death by Fentanyl. She attended Yale University and has reported for the New Haven Independent, ABC News, Univision, The Huffington Post, and Fusion.
Jorge Rivas is the national affairs correspondent at Fusion. He follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity.