Texas Immigration Facility to House Transgender Detainees

An immigration detention facility set to open up in Texas later this year will include a special unit for housing transgender people, only the second of its kind in the federal system.

The private facility under construction in Alvarado, Texas will include 36 beds for transgender detainees, according to a statement Monday from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility is scheduled to open in November.

The agency did not provide details about how the facility for transgender detainees would be different than other centers, and a regional ICE spokesman declined to make officials available for an interview.

The only other such facility, in Santa Ana, Carolina, held 28 transgender people last week, according to the agency. However, city officials in Santa Ana have considered ending their agreement with ICE to house detainees. ICE could not provide the number of transgender people being detained in the entire system.

Advocates say transgender immigrants often face particular challenges, including a higher risk of sexual assault, an inability to get hormone replacement treatments, and dealing with guards unfamiliar with gender identity issues.

A March report by Human Rights Watch on transgender people in immigration found that more than half of 28 women identified in the report were held in men’s facilities at some point during their detention. Half were held in solitary confinement.

According to the report, one Honduran woman held at a detention center in Arizona reported being raped by three men and then being told by a guard, “You are the ones that cause these problems and always call the men’s attention.”

Federal guidelines instruct detention staff to ask incoming detainees about their chosen gender identity and make accommodations based on their preference. The guidelines include instructions on conducting searches, providing clothing based on a detainee’s stated gender identity, and maintaining safety.