Written by: Greyson Brooks
In March, Better Together NYC, an LGBT-FAN partner organization, participated in an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) prison facility monitoring tour. BTNYC joined Human Rights Watch, the Detention Watch Network, and a representative from Howard University in a tour of the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey to ascertain the living conditions and medical treatment availability for incarcerated people.
Among other responsibilities, we observed and documented immigration jail facilities and conducted a number of interviews with incarcerated individuals. We knew already that ICE detention facilities are often far from safe spaces for SOGI-minorities, but it is even worse finding out that persecution comes from the very government many asylum seekers come to for assistance and resettlement.
In speaking with an immigrant who had his annual dental cleaning withheld for a year and a half due to a clerical error ICE refused to acknowledge, we encountered another horror: the ICE lieutenant in charge of the immigration aspects of this facility was directly perpetuating a homophobic, hostile environment. Described as a “fucking creep” and “rude” by a number of incarcerated immigrants, this ICE employee reportedly made large, public shows in front of other staff and detainees of how disgusting one humiliated gay Jamaican’s sexual orientation should be to him.
LGBT-FAN and its partners speak of the need to keep people out of prisons because prisons can be extremely harmful and dangerous places for LGBTIQ peoples in part due to contact with other incarcerated people. However, perhaps even more harmful to LGBTIQ asylum seekers and other queer and trans immigrants (and indeed ALL immigrants in detention) are the structural conditions of the prison system itself, including the at-best insufficiently-trained ICE staff, the isolation, the unhealthy living conditions (i.e. paltry room to move for exercise, many of those we interviewed said they only get fresh fruit or vegetables once a week, et cetera). Most immigrants are incarcerated for no just legal or security cause but simply to fill a bed and keep the money flowing. When this occurs, people are forced to cease living their own lives and instead live the life from which our revoltingly inhumane prison system wants to make a profit. It is a depressing irony that people to come to the United States in hopes of escaping persecution due to their sexuality, gender, or sex characteristics only to all-too-often end up in the homophobic and transphobic hands of our own government.
** Update: On May 11, 2016, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and First Friends of New Jersey & New York filed a complaint on behalf of 61 individuals detained at the Hudson County Correctional Facility about horrific medical conditions. Read the New York Times article.