DHS accused of violations against Undocumented LGBTs

DHS Violation Against LGBTQ Immigrant Rights

Last month the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was presented with a complaint of human rights violations committed against 13 undocumented lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants while in custody of the Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (ICE). The complaint, submitted by the immigrant rights group Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) describes the harsh conditions endured by undocumented LGBT immigrants, including being kept segregated from the rest of the detained population and kept in their cell for 22 hours a day.

“These complaints document stories of abuse, humiliation, and neglect, often in isolated detention facilities where people have little access to the outside world,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, NIJC’s executive director.

Among those named in the complaint is Alexis Cortez-Reyna, a transgender woman from Mexico, who along with other undocumented LGBT immigrants in custody, was a victim of neglect and abuse at the hands of the guards of the Theo Lacy Detention Facility. The complain describes how Alexis “was repeatedly called [anti-LGBT slurs] by guards, who also made jokes about her dying of AIDS. They singled her out for public searches in which they forced her to remove her outer clothing and mocked her exposed breasts.”

Once moved to the Santa Ana Jail, however, Alexis treatment did not improve. She was not only housed with men instead of with other women, she was also denied access to her HIV medication. Alexis has since been freed from detention, and in February of this year, a judge ruled that deportation to her country of origin would place her in danger of persecution.


Since the exact number of undocumented immigrants in the US is unknown and currently no federal agency documents LGBT sexual and gender identities, there is no definitive number of undocumented LGBT immigrants currently in the US. However, based on the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2005 estimate of 12 million undocumented immigrants and the Williams Institute’s recently released percentage of almost 4% (3.5% of the US population identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and an additional 0.3% of the population identifying as transgender), one can cautiously estimate that there are 480,000 undocumented LGBT-identified immigrants currently in the country.

The NIJC’s request for the Department of Justice to investigate the human rights violations and the subsequent implementation of policies preventing them, may therefore, prove important to the almost half-a-million undocumented LGBT immigrants who find themselves at risk of detention.

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Danny Olvera

The queer femme first-born of Mexican immigrant parents, Danny is no stranger to sticking out. A native Chicagoan, with a complicated relationship with LA and San Antonio, Danny can be found dancing arhymically on the dance floors of a queer Latin@ nightclub near you.

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  • Sandra Ivette Marzan

    i been descrimined i looking for help in spanish

    • http://kararikue.com Danny Olvera

      Hola Sandra,

      ¿En dónde vive usted y en que manera sufrió de discriminación?