Two months ago, when U.S. immigration officials announced that transgender immigrants who identified as female could finally be detained with other women, it seemed like a viable solution to an issue that had rankled the administration for months.
But on Monday, 92 national civil-rights group sent a letter to President Obama on Monday urging him to halt an impending transfer of transgender detainees to the new women’s immigration detention facility in Southern California. The advocates say the facility, which is owned by a private prison company, is too rural and has a history of abuse complaints.
The letter comes close to two months after U.S. immigration officials announced transgender women could be housed in a women’s facility at the Adelanto Detention Facility in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, about a four-hour round trip from Los Angeles, the advocates say. The facility is run by the GEO Group.
“GEO Group cannot be trusted to care for transgender women or house them safely,” the letter says.
“Attorneys and formerly detained people have reported abuses including solitary confinement, denial of medical care, and pervasive sexual harassment of transgender women at GEO Group facilities,” reads the letter signed by leading national LGBT civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Lambda Legal and The Transgender Law Center.
A 2014 Fusion investigation found some 75 transgender detainees are held every night by U.S. Immigration and Custom Officials. The trans detainees make up less than one percent of the estimated 34,000 people held in detention, yet trans detainees made up 1 out of 5 confirmed instances of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities.
The advocates who signed on to the letter say the most humane and common-sense way to keep LGBT immigrants safe is “not to detain them in the first place.”
“We urge you to act immediately and stop abuses against transgender women,” the civil rights groups said in the letter.
The GEO group denied the allegations made in the open letter sent to President Obama.
“GEO’s facilities, including the Adelanto Detention Facility, provide high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary,” said Pablo Paez, vice president of Corporate Relations at the GEO Group, in a statement sent to Fusion.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to requests for statement before this story was published.
Story developing, check back for updates.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of groups that had signed the letter. It is 92, not 100.