Texas Illegal Immigrant Detention Center Adding Transgender Housing Unit

Another Texas illegal immigrant detention center is being built and will include a special unit for transgender detainees. The new facility is the second to offer a special housing unit for transgender illegal immigrants.

The Prairieland Detention Center is being built in the city of Alvarado. The Texas immigrant detention center's special unit will include 36 beds for transgender detainees, according to a media release by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The center is slated to be completed in November. The newest detention center will have the capacity to hold 700 illegal immigrants.

The decision to build more illegal immigrant detention centers and to add transgender housing units has sparked intense debate on social media. One in every 500 illegal immigrant detainees is reportedly transgender.

An illegal immigrant detention center in Santa Ana, California, already has a transgender housing unit. According to a Daily Mail report, the facility was being used by 28 transgender detainees last week. A federal mandate requires immigration staffers at the detention center to ask the illegal immigrants about their "chosen gender identity" and then make special accommodations based upon their gender preference.

"ICE has shown over and over again that they're incapable of detaining trans people with even minimal levels of dignity or safety," National Day Laborer Organizing Network attorney Olga Tomchin said.

More than half of the 28 transgender illegal immigrants who were biologically male but identified as women were reportedly kept in the housing unit for men for some duration of time after breaking federal law and crossing into the United States illegally. Some of the transgender detainees were reportedly held in solitary confinement for safety reasons. A transgender illegal immigrant from Honduras reported being raped by three men while being housed at an Arizona detention center.

The federal policy also required the ICE and Border Patrol employees at the immigrant detention centers to provide clothing to the transgender illegal immigrants based upon their preferred gender. Special instructions regarding body searches are also reportedly included in the federal guidelines, which must be followed by the government workers tasked with housing the illegal aliens while awaiting amnesty or deportation hearings.

LGBT advocates claim transgender illegal immigrants face enhanced challenges, including increased risk of sexual assault and difficulty gaining access to hormone replacement treatments. The activists also cited concerns about ICE and U.S. Border Patrol agents being unfamiliar with transgender identity issues.

"[ICE] is talking about the new detention center as if they are providing as a service to the [LGBT] community, and they're not," Transgender Law Center Program Director Isa Noyola said during an interview with Fusion.

Noyola also alleged the transgender detainees have been subjected to violence and "unwarranted transphobic interactions" with staffers at immigration detention centers.

ICE announced it will work with LGBT groups in the Dallas area in an effort to assist transgender detainees after they are taken into custody.

"Without any mechanisms to enforce that [transgender detainee safety protocols] it just seems unlikely that transgender people will be kept safe and not subjected to abuse and mistreatment," Lambda Legal advocacy group attorney Carmina Ocampo said.

The Prairieland Detention Center will be managed and operated by Emerald Correctional Management. The private prison corporation currently operates six facilities and maintains it does not "warehouse detainees" and is focused on "changing the culture of privatization."

What do you think about the creation of transgender detainee housing units at illegal immigration detention centers in the United States?

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