Many transgender people immigrate to the United States to escape persecution or violence in their countries of birth only to experience similar problems in the U.S., in addition to the threat of being detained or deported.
Transgender immigrants in the U.S. often have trouble meeting basic needs because they face employment discrimination and are commonly denied or fired from jobs. Many immigrants do not have health insurance and even if they do, most public and private insurance companies exclude transition-related health care. Immigrants living with HIV may find access to medications difficult or impossible. Many transgender people also are unable to obtain identity documents that reflect their current gender, so immigration documents may or may not represent who they are.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 44% of reported hate murders in 2010 were committed against transgender women. (See “Fighting Anti- Trans Violence,” another fact sheet in this Transgender Toolkit series, at lambdalegal.org/publications/toolkits). Transgender people in immigration detention are at especially high risk of being harassed or sexually assaulted.
To be better informed about their rights and whether they are eligible for any immigration relief, transgender people should consult with a trustworthy attorney regarding immigration issues.
This fact sheet provides basic information for transgender immigrants in the U.S. regarding some of the most common problems. If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or HIV status, contact Lambda Legal through our Help Desk (866-542-8336) or visit us online at lambdalegal.org/help.
SEXUAL ASSAULT IN DETENTION
NEW U.S. RULES FALL SHORT
Some transgender advocates were disappointed in March 2014 when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new rules about dealing with sexual assault in immigration detention centers that failed to include key recommendations about transgender detainees. In 2012, the Department of Justice had issued rules for handling sexual assault in jails and prisons (outside of the immigration system) that are considered much stronger. Concerns about immigration detention from Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center include these:
1. The continued use of solitary confinement, which in many cases has been used to separate transgender detainees from the general population “for their protection” and has been shown to cause psychological harm.
2. The failure of the new regulations to prohibit retaliatory deportation of those who report abuse.
3. Transgender detainees are given the opportunity to shower separately from other detainees only when “operationally feasible.”
4. The new regulations apply to DHS contract facilities only when substantive contract modifications are negotiated, which may mean a delay of years.