Immigration officials have dropped their plans to relocate dozens of transgender detainees who identify as women to a remote detention center in Southern California, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Fusion. The facility in Adelanto would have been the first U.S. immigration detention center to house trans women alongside other female detainees.
Currently, transgender women are locked up alongside men, where they report disproportionate instances of sexual abuse. Officials had been planning to relocate at least two dozen transgender women, many of them asylum seekers detained under the agency’s mandatory detention guidelines.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is no longer pursuing Adelanto as a location to house transgender women on a long-term basis,” agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice wrote in an email to Fusion.
Immigrant-rights advocates had condemned the plan from the start, calling instead for ICE to end the detention of vulnerable populations. They held several protests in front of the proposed facility and called attention to a number of formal complaints about the prison submitted to the Department of Justice by civil-rights groups and members of Congress.
ICE officials did not explain why the plans were cancelled. But the privately run facility in Adelanto—about two hours northeast of Los Angeles by car—has become the subject of increased public scrutiny in recent months.
In October, advocates claimed more than 300 men there had stopped eating to call attention to demands for better medical care and their long waits in detention. An ICE spokesperson claimed it was 22 of the facility’s 1,400 detainees “who went on a hunger strike to protest what the detainees perceived as delays in their immigration proceedings.”
Immigrant-rights advocates say there are currently nine men at the Adelanto facility on a hunger strike. The detainees are protesting being locked up for months or even years during immigration court proceedings. ICE officials said facility personnel are monitoring the detainees’ health as well as their food and liquid intake.
In July, 29 members of Congress wrote to the directors at Homeland Security and the Department of Justice because they said they were "concerned by reports indicating the Geo Group, Inc. is failing to provide adequate medical treatment to detainees in their custody at the Adelanto facility.”
The letter noted the April 2015 death of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, a Salvadoran immigrant who died "after GEO failed to diagnose and treat his intestinal cancer." He was in ICE custody for more than four years.
ICE’s own Office of Detention Oversight in 2014 discovered the “Adelanto Detention Facility does not report all allegations of sexual abuse and assault to [Enforcement and Removal Operations] and case files are not properly maintained.” ICE said the issues cited in the 2014 report related to the reporting of sexual abuse allegations have been addressed and corrective action taken.
A spokesperson for The GEO Group facilities said its facilities “provide high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”
“Our facilities adhere to strict contractual requirements and standards set by ICE, and the agency employs several full-time, on-site contract monitors who have a physical presence at each of GEO’s facilities,” Pablo E. Paez, vice president of corporate relations at The GEO Group, said in an email sent to Fusion.
The decision to cancel the Adelanto transgender pod comes five months after immigration officials rolled out new policy guidelines that would allow the agency to detain transgender women in women’s facilities for the first time. When ICE unveiled the new guidance in June, officials said it was the most comprehensive for transgender individuals in any custodial entity.
ICE said it is still looking for a facility that can adopt the agency’s new standards that will allow it to house transgender detainees with the population that matches their gender identity.
“ICE continuing to communicate with its facility partners to determine if any of them are interested in adopting the agency’s Transgender Care Contract Modification,” said Kice, referring to the guidance that was unveiled in June.
A 2014 Fusion investigation found some 75 transgender detainees are held by ICE every night, 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.