New Report Finds Widespread Abuse of LGBTQ and HIV-Positive People in ICE and CBP Jails

Human Rights First, Immigration Equality, and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) released a new report, “No Human Being Should Be Held There”: The Mistreatment of LGBTQ and HIV-Positive People in Federal Immigration Jails, which lays bare the systemic abuse against LGBTQ and HIV-positive individuals in ICE and CBP custody. Interviews and surveys with 41 detained or formerly detained LGBTQ and HIV-positive people revealed they were targeted for a broad range of abuses from ICE and CBP staff, and other detained individuals whose behavior went unchecked by authorities.

Researchers found that among the 41 LGBTQ and HIV-positive individuals who participated in the study:

  • One third reported sexual abuse, physical assaults or sexual harassment;
  • A majority received inadequate medical care or were denied care altogether, including the majority of individuals living with HIV;
  • About half were subject to solitary confinement;
  • About half reported new or increased mental health symptoms while in detention, including hives, panic attacks, mental health crises, flashbacks, and self-harm;
  • Nearly all reported verbal abuse or threats of violence and assault that were homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, or racist;
  • Many routinely struggled to find an attorney or access their attorney.

One study participant, Ariel Urrutia, is a gay man living with HIV who was detained in four different detention centers over the course of a year. He shared the following comment:

“I want this report to help people understand the hidden reality of immigration detention centers. In the outside world, they’re presented as humane, but for me, they were like a lion’s den. I still have nightmares about what I went through there.”  

The report’s authors shared the following reflections regarding the report’s findings:

“A majority of LGBTQ people in immigration jails are there simply because they came to the U.S. seeking safe haven,” said Bridget Crawford, Director of Law & Policy at Immigration Equality. “Many flee countries where it is a crime or extremely dangerous to be LGBTQ for a chance to live free from fear and the chance to live as their authentic selves. Yet when they arrive in the U.S., they are detained in dangerous conditions and targeted for simply being who they are—the very reason they left their homes to begin with.”

“LGBTQ+ people frequently come to the United States fleeing severe violence and danger. Instead of providing refuge and safety, the United States subjects them to conditions in immigration detention facilities that aggravate their past trauma, neglect their medical needs, and expose them to discrimination and violence,” said NIJC Director of Policy Nayna Gupta. Thanks to the brave group of immigrants who shared their experiences for this report, we better understand the rampant and systemic nature of these human rights violations. It is past time to phase out the use of immigrant detention and protect LGBTQ and HIV-positive people who are highly vulnerable to the injustices that are endemic to the U.S. immigration detention system.”

“These findings are a stark reminder of the urgent need to phase out the use of immigration detention,” said Christina Asencio, Director of Research and Analysis, Refugee Protection at Human Rights First. “No human being should endure such mistreatment and neglect, and for people already marginalized due to their LGBTQ+ identity or HIV-positive status, these conditions have proved to be particularly dangerous. Our report underscores the necessity for immediate action to ensure the safety and dignity of every person who seeks safety in the United States.” 

The report’s recommendations call on the Biden administration and Congress to take steps to end this unnecessary suffering and protect the rights of LGBTQ and HIV-positive individuals. These include using existing legal authority and policies to release LGBTQ people from detention and support legislative actions that phase out the use of immigration detention.


Published on June 18, 2024


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