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Secretary Napolitano: End sexual abuse of LGBT people

The National Center for Transgender Equality urges Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to strengthen the standards to end sexual abuse and violence in immigration detention facilities.

Those standards would have protected people like Juan, a gay man, who was detained by DHS where he was sexually assaulted by two other detainees.

"[The assailants] planned everything and made me agree and because I feared that they would do something to me [I] accepted," Juan said. Staff refused to transfer him to another facility, and instead, placed him in solitary confinement. Instead of protecting him from further abuse, staff told him to "walk like a man, not like a gay man."

In May 2012, the Department of Justice issued standards to address this problem in jails, prisons, and police lock-ups. NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said, "The Department of Justice took an important step in making sure that our government works to end sexual abuse in prison systems. And now, Secretary Napolitano has an opportunity to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security does the same for immigration detention facilities."

Already surviving rape from her home country, Esmeralda Soto was seeking asylum in the U.S. attempting to escape from further persecution. Esmeralda, a transgender woman, was forced to perform oral sex on an immigration official while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said, "We've got to fix this. As President Obama and Congress move closer to addressing our immigration system overall, Secretary Napolitano should remember that she already has the authority to reform and improve the way we treat people in immigration detention right now."

Secretary Napolitano is expected to issue standards to address sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities, however the proposed form of the standards include significant flaws. The standards currently allow some immigration detention facilities to delay adoption of these protections indefinitely and they do not require training all facility staff on critical topics such as working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people with intersex conditions (LGBTI). The standards also do not adequately outline how to safely search and house transgender detainees.

Each year over 500,000 people are detained by the Department of Homeland Security, many are LGBTI people who face heightened risk of abuse.

When her attacker was arrested and jailed, Esmeralda suffered from retaliation and often feared for her life. Keisling said, "Secretary Napolitano can prevent future cases of violence if the Department of Homeland Security creates standards that protect everyone from sexual abuse regardless of gender identity or immigration status."