WASHINGTON -- Six LGBT immigrant rights activists were arrested Tuesday after blocking a street near the White House to protest the Obama administration's treatment of LGBT immigrants in detention.
Protesters, organized by advocacy group United We Dream, took turns criticizing Obama administration detention policies as some participants linked themselves with chains or lay in the street and blocked traffic.
“We are asking President Obama to free all LGBT people from detention because detention is not protecting them. Detention is brutalizing them,” said Brooke Cerda-Guzmán, an undocumented transgender woman who was arrested.
The protest came a week after an undocumented transgender woman was kicked out of the White House for heckling President Barack Obama about immigrant detention. It followed Monday's small victory for advocates for better treatment of LGBT people in detention, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it will consider transgender detainees' gender identity when deciding where they should be housed.
The protesters -- four undocumented, and three transgender -- were arrested after the group marched from the White House to K Street, where they blocked a busy intersection. As police hauled them away, others continued to chant from the sidewalk.
“Detention is bad for everyone, but it is especially bad for LGBTQ immigrants,” said Carlos Padilla, who coordinates United We Dream's Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. “No one should should have to face such horrific conditions for simply being who they are.”
LGBT people are more likely to experience abuse and sexual assault in immigration detention than heterosexual inmates, according to the progressive think tank Center for American Progress. The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates there are more than 267,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants in the U.S. The U.S. government reported more than 140 undocumented immigrants died in detention from 2003 to 2013. The number of LGBT people included in that figure is unknown.
ICE has taken steps to better accommodate LGBT detainees. The agency on Monday revealed plans to allow transgender detainees to be placed in facilities with the sex they identify with. Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE deputy assistant director for custody programs, said agency has been conducting a pilot program at one of its facilities and is looking to expand it to a few of its other detention centers.
“We do know the procedures that we put in place are working,” Lorenzen-Strait said. “We want this to be an option for more facilities.”
ICE will begin keeping data on detainees’ gender identity and will offer more training for immigration officers to help transgender detainees in a respectful manner.
But Padilla said it does not go far enough.
“No matter how much better you make that cage, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a cage,” Padilla said.