October 17, 2019

Senators Warren and Baldwin Call for Swift Action to Protect Transgender Migrants

DHS policies and practices harm transgender asylum seekers, who are often subject to harassment, sexual and physical assault, medical neglect, and solitary confinement

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew Albence, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, citing reports that detail abuse and neglect of transgender migrants and asylum seekers and urging the Trump Administration to reverse policies that are harming these vulnerable populations.

"Around the world, transgender individuals face violence, harassment, and discrimination based on their gender identity and gender expression," the lawmakers wrote. "The United States should protect individuals fleeing persecution and targeted violence, including persecution based on gender identity or expression-not subject them to further harm."

In their letter, the lawmakers cite several instances in which DHS policies and practices harm transgender migrants, including the "Migrant Protection Protocols" (also known as "Remain in Mexico"), "metering" policies, and the third-country transit asylum bar. The lawmakers' letter describes how those policies and practices, which turn transgender asylum seekers away from the United States, place them in harm's way, and violate the United States' moral and legal obligations.

The lawmakers' letter also cites the overwhelming evidence of systemic neglect and mistreatment of transgender individuals in immigration detention facilities, including harassment, sexual and physical assault, medical neglect, and solitary confinement.

"These troubling reports demonstrate ICE's inability to provide adequate conditions for transgender immigrants," wrote the lawmakers. "Given these risks, and the specialized medical and other care necessary to care adequately for transgender detainees, ICE should rely on alternatives to detention, an approach with strong, bipartisan support that includes release on recognizance, parole, and community-based alternatives."

The lawmakers also requested a staff-level briefing on or before October 29, 2019 to update their offices on efforts to address the harm to transgender migrants.

Senator Warren's letter is part of her ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety of migrants and asylum seekers:

  • In November 2018, Senator Warren led ten of her Senate colleagues in sending letters to the two largest private immigration detention contractors in the United States requesting information about the companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a DHS Inspector General (IG) report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers.
  • In April 2019, she led her colleagues in writing to ICE in response to the findings of the senators' investigation of private prison companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards, which revealed that neither the private prison companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for grievous failures identified by the DHS IG.
  • Following a DHS IG report regarding unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren opened investigations into two of the country's largest private prison contractors, along with the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. In April 2019, she released the prison companies' responses, which revealed that none of the companies had taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG and demonstrated an ongoing dispute between the auditor and the IG about the quality of the auditor's inspections. 
  • In May 2019, the senator opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide. She has also questioned ICE on the misuse of solitary confinement, and requested an investigation into reports of solitary confinement being used to coerce participation in "voluntary" work programs at immigration detention facilities.
  • She joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) and seven other U.S. senators calling for the federal government to investigate federal contractors after disturbing reports of hungry, sick, and unbathed children being held in federal contractor facilities near the border were made public. She also wrote to CBP requesting answers on steps being taken to protect children and has raised concerns about reports the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children may be used once again to detain children, despite its documented history of overcrowding and poor conditions.
  • Last month, Senator Warren expressed serious concerns over DHS's announcement that migrant families currently detained at CBP holding centers would not be vaccinated for the flu ahead of this year's flu season.