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March 22, 2019

CHAPARRAL, NM - Today, the ACLU of New Mexico, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding a meeting with officials and an investigation into rampant sexual harassment, medical neglect, and retaliation against transgender women and gay men at Otero County Processing Center. The letter comes after the organizations met with a dozen gay men and transgender women who recounted frequent harassment, denials of medication, and the use of solitary confinement to dissuade people from issuing complaints.

“These men and women fled persecution and violence in their home countries only to be met with humiliating and degrading treatment by guards and medical staff at Otero,” said ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney Kristin Greer Love. “This kind of treatment is an affront to their dignity and a danger to their safety and well-being.”

In their letter, the legal organizations warn that current conditions not only violate transgender women and gay men’s constitutional rights, but are also in violation of ICE’s own policy of prohibiting discrimination and harassment against anyone because of their perceived or real sexual orientation or gender identity.

“When ICE officials drafted their own policies, they recognized that transgender and gay immigrants are among the most vulnerable people in their custody,” said Santa Fe Dreamers Project Staff Attorney Hector Ruiz. “But the way staff are treating these people shows a complete disregard for their humanity.”  

The letter outlines a series of recommendations for ICE, including immediately training staff on how to communicate and interact respectfully with transgender women and gay men, halting the practice of placing them in solitary confinement as retaliation, and providing them timely and adequate medical care.

“If ICE is serious about their compliance with the law and their own policies, I hope they will take this opportunity to meet with us to move the discussion towards specific solutions that respect the dignity of LGBT individuals in their custody,” said Nicolas Palazzo, an attorney and HIAS Border Fellow at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “The use of solitary confinement, the perpetuation of sexual harassment, and the refusal of necessary medical treatment to LGBT detainees are barbaric and degrading practices. We believe ICE must do better and we are hopeful that by bringing these abuses to light, we can put an end to them.”

“During the three months I was detained in Otero, I was repeatedly groped while I slept, asked to perform sexual favors in exchange for food, and verbally insulted by other detainees. When I complained, I was thrown into solitary confinement for five days and threatened with further punishment if I complained again,” said W., a 20 year old gay man who fled widespread persecution in Honduras. “Now that I am released from custody, I am free to speak up because I do not fear retaliation.”  

The ACLU of New Mexico, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project sent a copy of the letter to Senator Martin Heinrich, Senator Tom Udall and Representative Xochitl Torres Small and invited them to attend the meeting with ICE .

A copy of the letter is available below.