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Trump’s much-loathed immigration agency ICE is being sued for detaining trans migrants in coronavirus ‘death traps’

Emma Powys Maurice April 29, 2020
ICE is being sued for detaining trans migrants in coronavirus 'death traps'

A woman is held at an ICE detention centre in Phoenix, Arizona. (John Moore/Getty)

A federal lawsuit is demanding that ICE release all trans immigrants from custody as they are more susceptible to coronavirus.

The joint class action lawsuit was filed by three separate groups who argue that ICE’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is a violation of immigrants’ rights.

ICE’s notorious detention facilities were “completely inadequate before the pandemic” and have now become “death traps”,  said Gregory Copeland of the Rapid Defense Network, one of the organisations behind the lawsuit.

He is joined by the Transgender Law Center (TLC) and Ballard Spahr LLP, who are representing 13 named plaintiffs from six different countries. All plaintiffs left their home countries out of fear of violence, but say they are now being forcibly held in “dangerous conditions” in the US.

“Transgender people in civil immigration detention not only have to endure the unjustifiably harsh conditions facing everyone in [ICE] custody, they often experience inadequate medical care, harassment and even violence because of their gender identities,” said Matthew Kelley, a lawyer at Ballard Spahr. 

“My Ballard colleagues and I are honoured to fight for their release during the COVID-19 crisis which exposes them to life-threatening conditions.”

An immigrant at a detention centre in Arizona (John Moore/Getty)

The plaintiffs are supported by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, an organisation working with hundreds of transgender women held by ICE. The group has joined the lawsuit’s calls for the immediate release of detainees.

“The only possible conclusion that we can make as witnesses to their horrifying experiences is that there is simply no way ICE can safely detain trans individuals,” said Allegra Love, director of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project.

“Now during this global pandemic, the only possible thing we can do, knowing what we know and seeing what we’ve seen, is plead with the court to order their release before we find ourselves facing yet another tragedy.”

ICE repeatedly denied medical care for trans immigrants.

According to the TLC, at least 32 ICE detention centres have had coronavirus outbreaks since March, with 250 publicly reported cases of the disease among detainees and staff members.

This is hardly surprising considering the well-documented “appalling” standards of care for transgender immigrants in ICE detention centres, with the repeated denial of medical treatment being a common theme of complaints.

Just last month, a leaked memo from Homeland Security revealed that an HIV-positive trans woman in ICE detention was left bleeding from her rectum for 13 days.

The facility in question was already under intense scrutiny after a federal inspection in 2019 found hundreds of unanswered requests for medical attention, including from those with infectious diseases.

The overcrowded conditions in the facilities were acknowledged on Monday by US district judge James Boasberg, who ruled that ICE had to justify holding parents in custody for more than 20 days, expanding on a ruling that initially only applied to children.

He also noted the facilities’ poor hygiene and lack of adherence to social distancing measures.

 

More: Coronavirus, COVID-19, ice, immigration, Pandemic, Rapid Defense Network, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, transgender law center

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