Two dozen transgender women will be moved to a women’s immigration facility in the next few weeks, an immigration official told Fusion on Thursday.
The move will mark the first instance in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knowingly locks up transgender women alongside other women. Previously, they had been detained in men’s facilities, where they faced increased risk of sexual assault.
Beds are arriving this week at a new women’s branch of the Adelanto Detention Facility in Southern California. But before any transgender detainees are admitted, officers at the Adelanto facility will be trained on new guidelines to interact with trans detainees, according to ICE officials.
The move is expected in August, but officials could not confirm a final move-in date.
ICE officials say the two dozen women must be detained under the agency’s mandatory detention guidelines and therefore cannot immediately be released on parole. Members of Congress and advocates for transgender immigrants—most notably Jennicet Guttiérez, who interrupted President Obama at a White House pride event last week with her demands—have been lobbying for immigration authorities to release all transgender inmates from immigration custody.
The transgender detainees will likely be housed in their own area of the women’s facility, but may be allowed to “mingle” with other female detainees, according to ICE officials.
A Fusion investigation found that although only about 1 in 500 detainees are transgender, one in five victims of confirmed sexual assault in immigration detention were transgender in recent years. Transgender detainees have reported being strip-searched by male guards, forced to shower alongside men, denied medical care, and placed in solitary confinement for months on end in the name of protecting them.
ICE detains an average of 75 transgender detainees every night, Fusion found.
The Adelanto facility, about 90 miles south of Los Angeles, is owned and operated by GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit private prison companies in the country.
Not all advocates are thrilled with the news, citing the facility’s history of abuse. A Department of Homeland Security inspection report found that the facility “failed to provide adequate healthcare” to a Mexican immigrant who died of pneumonia after being detained there in 2012.
“It is horrifying and outrageous that ICE has decided to subject transgender people to the infamously terrible conditions at the for-profit Adelanto detention center,” said Olga Tomchin, the Deportation Defense Coordinator and Staff Attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
A GEO Group spokesperson responded that the Adelanto Detention Facility provides “high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”
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.