ACLU: Transgender Inmate Assaulted In Federal Custody

December 09, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the federal government and a private prison company after a transgendered immigrant was allegedly assaulted while in custody in Arizona.

The woman was being held at the Eloy Detention Center where she was seeking asylum. The facility is owned by the Corrections Corporation of America. In 2010, the ACLU says the victim was allegedly assaulted by a detention officer.

Pinal County court records do show the guard was charged with attempted unlawful sexual contact. The guard was sentenced to two days, time served.

Alessandra Soler Meetze heads the ACLU of Arizona.

“They did nothing. They failed to protect her from abusive staff members,” Soler Meetze said. “They failed to protect her from male detainees."

Amber Cargile is a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona. In response to questions about the lawsuit, she wrote:

"While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on pending litigation, the agency is firmly committed to providing for the welfare and humane treatment of all those in its custody. ICE is currently in the process of implementing comprehensive reforms to the agency’s detention system. The reforms are designed to prioritize the health and safety of detainees in ICE’s custody, while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the detention system. ICE is focused on sensible, sustainable reforms that are attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.”

Soler Meetze said the problems of sexual abuse are more systemic. She said the ACLU has gathered more than 185 reports of sexual abuse in immigrant detention facilities nationwide.

For this particular victim, the problems were exacerbated because after the guard's sexual assault, she was placed back in a male population rather than in a woman's cell. The victim identifies herself as a woman and was taking hormone and estrogen injections to ready herself for a sex change operation.

The accusations include an instance in which a guard tried to trade her to inmates for three packages of soup, according to the ACLU.

"On one occasion, a detention officer told other detainees that they could “have her” if they gave him three soup packets," according to court papers.