Stop Holding Transgender Women in Men’s Immigration Detention Centers

Target: Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Sarah Saldaña

Goal: Institute an alternative system for detaining transgender people.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regularly detains undocumented transgender women, holding them for months or years in facilities for men. This practice has resulted in the harassment and sexual assault of many transgender women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Furthermore, ICE’s reaction to transgender detainees’ fears for their safety is to put detainees into extended solitary confinement purportedly for their protection. ICE detention centers have also been found to deny transgender women access to medical treatments such as hormones and HIV medications.

A Human Rights Watch report on the experiences of transgender women in ICE detention revealed a startling lack of concern for transgender detainees experiencing sexual assault. Detention center guards often blamed the victims of assault, subjecting them to transphobic and misogynistic abuse. When officials did react to the abuse, the response was often to put transgender detainees in solitary confinement.

Many detainees spent months or years in ICE detention. Even short stretches of solitary confinement can have large negative effects on an individual’s mental health. Many undocumented transgender people moved to the U.S. fleeing violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of discrimination in their home countries. The abuses and deprivations rife in ICE detention centers only serve to do more harm to undocumented transgender people.

It is clear that in order to respect the human rights of transgender people, ICE’s must revise its policy on detaining transgender people to ensure that their human rights are respected. Sign our petition and let Director of ICE Sarah Saldaña know that we expect her agency to respect the rights of undocumented transgender people.


Dear Director Saldaña,

The recent Human Rights Watch report on the conditions experienced by transgender women in ICE detention facilities undermines U.S. commitments to uphold human rights. Undocumented transgender people often come to America seeking asylum due to the violence and discrimination they face in their home countries. Many qualify for refugee status in the U.S., meaning that their undocumented status is often temporary and that their presence in the U.S. is a means to keep themselves safe.

If ICE intends to detain undocumented transgender women, under international law it must be able to provide a humane detention environment. A choice between housing transgender detainees with their birth assigned sex and solitary confinement is not acceptable. Ensuring the safety of particularly vulnerable groups may mean producing a different model for detaining members of such groups. Furthermore, inaction in the face of multiple accounts of abuse is not acceptable; as a government agency, ICE must hold its agents to the highest standard and make it clear that it will not tolerate abuse.

Denying individuals medical treatment and pursuing detention practices that place detainees at high risk of sexual assault are both unacceptable practices. Undocumented transgender people are a particularly vulnerable population, and as such require policies sensitive to the challenges they face. I urge you to review and reform your agency’s policies on the detention of transgender people.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: David Stanley

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One Comment

  1. Gen Agustsson says:

    stop it! its racist and cissexist. trans women are not men!

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