The Detention of Trans Asylum Seekers in the U.S.
Guest Blog Post by Michael Smoley, 2020 AsylumConnect Summer Intern
Seeking Asylum in the U.S.
Every year, thousands of people fleeing persecution in their home countries will arrive at the U.S. border to ask for asylum. Seeking asylum in America is an arduous and complex process. In the United States, asylum seekers are not entitled to a free government attorney nor eligible for critical benefits. Due to the current U.S. immigration case backlog of over 1 million, many asylum seekers remain in legal limbo for years. In order to be granted asylum in the U.S., asylum seekers must prove “credible fear” if they are returned to their home country. In order to prove credible fear, asylum seekers must prove two requirements: 1) they have experienced or will experience persecution if they are not able to leave their country, and 2) this persecution is based on a protected characteristic (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion).
Although the U.S. asylum process is challenging for virtually all asylum seekers, transgender and gender non-conforming asylum seekers continue to face unique obstacles.
The Danger of Immigration Detention For Trans Asylum Seekers
On average, transgender asylum seekers face ninety-nine days in custody in immigration detention before they are released – more than double the average length of custody of other non-LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. While in detention, transgender asylum seekers often lack access to affirming and critical medical care. Transgender asylum seekers are also routinely housed in units that do not match their gender identity. For example, a trans woman may be housed in an all-male facility. This dangerous practice leads to an increased likelihood of sexual harassment and abuse.
An exception is the Cibola County Correctional Center, a detention center in New Mexico which includes the U.S. government’s only dedicated detention unit for transgender immigrants. This unit, known as a “trans pod”, can hold up to 60 trans women. Although the idea of a “trans pod” may seem beneficial, this unit has exhibited similar human rights violations as other detention centers. For example, 2019 federal inspections of Cibola uncovered unanswered requests for medical attention, poor quarantine procedures and insufficient treatment for mental illnesses.
In reality, locking asylum seekers in immigration detention remains an unsafe and inhumane practice. And detention continues to be especially dangerous for trans and gender non-conforming people. The U.S. asylum system needs significant reforms in order to be safe for trans asylum seekers.
Do you know a LGBTQ+ asylum seeker who needs help from within immigration detention? Search our free resource website to find LGBTQ+ affirming attorneys who can help queer people in immigration detention.