Marichuy Leal Gamino is a 23-year-old transgender woman who has spent more than a year living in an immigration detention facility, housed with men. Though she spent most of her life growing up in Arizona, she was born a Mexican citizen, making her an undocumented immigrant. After repeatedly experiencing harassment and threats of abuse, she says she was sexually assaulted last week by her cellmate. When she reported the abuse to the staff of the for-profit facility, they allegedly responded by asking her to sign a statement claiming that she had consented.
A number of LGBT and immigrant rights groups are lifting up Gamino’s story as an example of the many flaws in current immigration policy, as well as the disparate impact that detention has on LGBT immigrants. A growing coalition has signed onto a petition calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release Gamino from the Eloy Detention Center. In the coalition’s letter, Francisco Luna of Arcoiris Liberation Team asserts that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “has shown that they are incapable of ensuring Marichuy’s protection from future assaults or retaliation for reporting the awful sexual abuse she has survived.”
It’s been over two years since DHS announced it would begin implementing new guidelines from the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in its immigration detention and holding facilities. These guidelines, finalized nine years after PREA’s passage in 2003, call for specific protections for LGBT detainees, including training for facility staff and reporting structures to catch if LGBT inmates are being targeted for their identities.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the private for-profit that owns and manages the Eloy Detention Center, claims to abide by PREA’s requirements. CCA’s Human Rights Policy includes protections based on sex and gender, and it also maintains a “zero tolerance policy” for sexual abuse and sexual harassment. That policy includes guidance that transgender detainees will be considered for housing on a case-by-case basis to “ensure the inmate/resident’s health and safety.”
According to Gamino’s report of her experience in the center, these guidelines were clearly not followed. Despite identifying as a woman in name and appearance, she has been housed with men for the entirety of her detainment — over a full year. According to the Transgender Law Center, which has been lifting up Gamino’s story using the #FreeMarichuy hashtag on Twitter, she experienced weeks of “bullying, lewd comments, and threats of rape” from her cellmate, all of which she reported to detention officers, who told her to “deal with it.” After she was raped, she was not only pressured to admit that she consented to it, but she “has still been offered no real recourse or assurance that her safety will be protected.” CCA did not immediately reply to a ThinkProgress inquiry regarding Gamino’s situation, but told the Phoenix New Times that the allegations will be investigated. ICE also confirmed that the Eloy Detention Center has been inspected and found in compliance with PREA standards.
A congressional mandate requires that 34,000 immigrants be held in detention facilities every day. Because many LGBT people flee countries where laws criminalize their identities, they are more likely to be swept up in this quota. A Center for American Progress report details how these LGBT detainees are unfairly treated in immigration detention facilities, including sexual assaults that took place in the same facility where Gamino is held. Transgender detainees are also often forced into solitary confinement instead of being housed with the gender by which they identify.
The Government Accountability Office found that between October 2009 and March 2013, 40 percent of sexual assault allegations were never reported to ICE. That’s because ICE field officers were not complying with reporting requirements, and because detainees were not even able to report their abuse due to an ineffective hotline. Of the 215 investigations during that time, only 7 percent were substantiated.