Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender “Pods” not enough to keep people safe in immigration detention facilities

Since the announcement of Caitlyn Jenner redefining herself as a transgender woman, the topic has been brought to the forefront of the news in the United States. The plight of these individuals is finally being discussed and addressed with the American public on a daily basis.

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender individuals, commonly known and grouped together as LGBT are finding it difficult to survive in immigration custody, despite the creating of “pods” within certain immigration facilities. The creation of these “pods” was the result of a memorandum issued by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) a few months ago. ICE calls these specific and separate areas “GBT pods”, which were fashioned in order to provide a safe environment for people who classify themselves as gay, bi-sexual or transgender. In an ordinary setting, GBT individuals face harassment as well as physical and sexual assault at the hands of the inmates they are housed with. The memo raised the suggestion of separating LGBT individuals into their own space where they might be offered more safety and privacy. It was even discussed that males who identify as females might be housed in a women’s detention facility. Since the release of this memo, a few trial pods have been established.

According to a recent report, inmates who are being housed in these GBT pods are not receiving the medical care or attention they might require. Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), recently spoke out against the GBT pods that ICE Is attempting to facilitate. The executive director of QDEP, Jamila Hammami warned that ICE is not able to care for its inmates in general, and that LGBT inmates are suffering from medical neglect and sexual assault from their fellow inmates as well as from the guards. She asserts that the only way that LGBT individuals would be safe is if they were released from ICE custody entirely. There have been reports women in immigration custody are often forced to have full body cavity searches performed on them by male guards.

Groups such as the Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement has called upon President Obama this year for the release of transgender women from immigration facilities. The request echoes the same concerns as QDEP, that LGBT individuals face danger while in immigration custody, as well as lack of access to critical medication.

To date, information on the success and creation of the GBT pods has been limited. It seems that certain detention facilities such as the one in Santa Ana, California and Elizabeth, New Jersey, have attempted to construct a GBT facility for the inmates housed there.

The key to making a difference in having the LGBT issues addressed is community support. It is important to remember that individuals who are detained in immigration facilities are not being held for criminal issues, rather they are awaiting their immigration case, often before an immigration judge.

The human rights of all detainees of the federal government should be a concern for citizens. The human rights of LGBT individuals in custody should be no different, conversely they should be taken more seriously knowing the gravity of the treatment they are receiving.

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