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The Plight of LGBT Immigrant Detainees

Clement Lee, an expert on LGBT issues within the immigrant community, discusses the plight of LGBT individuals trapped in the detention system.

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Our client Jacki [not her real name] was confined to a 10-foot-by-10-foot room in immigration detention simply because she was transgender. She was placed on suicide watch, with security checks every 15 minutes. She was denied her HIV medications and subsequently became extremely ill. Isolated, depressed, and hopeless, she began to bang her head against the walls of her cell. After extensive advocacy by Immigration Equality, and after Jacki filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Jacki was paroled out of detention with an ankle monitoring bracelet. ICE could have saved Jacki considerable hardship, and taxpayers considerable expense, if they had paroled Jacki immediately.

Chris Fitzegerald, Communications Director of Rep. Polis, said that the government has accepted the lawmakers' request for an investigation, which is expected to commence by June. Rep. Polis will decide whether to pursue legislation protecting LGBT immigrant detainees when he gets the results.

My impression of government investigations is that they can take an inordinate amount of time. Meanwhile, LGBT immigrants languish in detention facilities that are rarely monitored by the government, nearly half of which are run by private prison companies.

This piece was originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds.

Erwin de Leon is a Research Associate at Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy completing a doctorate in Public and Urban Policy from the New School. He writes a weekly column for Feet in 2 Worlds, an immigration news website, and contributes regularly to WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, the Nonprofit Quarterly and the Huffington Post.