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Class action lawsuit demands ICE release all transgender detainees

Trans people in immigration detention ‘among the most vulnerable’ to coronavirus.

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Advocacy groups on Thursday filed a class action lawsuit that demands U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release all transgender people who are in their custody because they are more susceptible to the coronavirus.

The Transgender Law Center and the Rapid Defense Network, along with Ballard Spahr LLP, a Philadelphia-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit names as plaintiffs 13 trans women who are in ICE detention centers in Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado and California. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and U.S. Attorney General William Barr are named as defendants.

The lawsuit states trans people “in civil immigration detention — many of whom came to this country seeking safety from violence and persecution in their home countries because of their gender identities — are among the most vulnerable during the current pandemic.” It also says ICE “has not provided and cannot implement sufficient measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.”

One of the plaintiffs — a trans woman from Mexico who is in ICE custody at the Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Ariz., — says two of her fellow detainees who live in her pod have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Another plaintiff — a trans woman from El Salvador at the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, La., who has been in ICE custody for nearly a year — says nurses do not wear personal protective equipment and personnel at the facility have not provided her with information about the coronavirus. A trans Jamaican woman with HIV who is in ICE custody at the Nevada Southern Detention Center outside of Las Vegas says “staff … including medical staff, do not always wear gloves and masks.”

A trans Honduran woman who is in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Va., says it is “impossible for her to practice social distancing” because more than three dozen people live in her dormitory. Another trans Honduran woman who is detained at the Aurora Contract Detention Center in Aurora, Colo., claims she learned about “a confirmed case of COVID-19” at the facility while watching the news.

“Transgender people in civil immigration detention, as a group, are at a greater risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 than the general population and, if they do become infected, are more likely to become seriously ill or die,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, among other things, notes trans people are more likely to have underlying medical conditions and have higher rates of HIV than other groups. The lawsuit also notes ICE detention centers “are plagued by chronic and well-documented failures to provide proper medical care to transgender people in civil immigration detention — problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and pose another enhanced risk of infection, disease and death for transgender people in civil immigration detention.”

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who was briefly detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., died on May 25, 2018, while she was in ICE custody. Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans Salvadoran woman with HIV, passed away at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M.

The families of both trans women have filed wrongful death lawsuits against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security that oversees it.

“ICE’s failures to provide adequate medical care during the pandemic — building upon its inability to do so even in the best of times — put transgender people in civil immigration detention at further risk of serious illness or death should they become infected with the coronavirus,” reads the lawsuit filed by the Transgender Law Center and the Rapid Defense Network.

“Because ICE cannot provide adequate medical care to them, transgender people in civil immigration detention should be released immediately to safer environments,” it adds.

ICE on its website says there are 287 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases. These include one at the Caroline Detention Facility, two at the Winn Correctional Center and 10 at the Florence Detention Center.

The Transgender Law Center is among the dozens of advocacy groups that demanded the release of all trans ICE detainees in a letter they sent to Wolf and Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence on Jan. 21. More than 40 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have made the same request.

ICE in previous interviews and statements to the Los Angeles Blade has defended its treatment of trans detainees.

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Monday ordered ICE to “identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and said it “should consider the willingness of detainees with risk factors to be released.” The ruling notes ICE as of April 4 will consider for release detainees who are over 60, detainees “of any age having chronic illnesses which would make them immune-compromised” and those who are pregnant or have given birth within the last two weeks.

ICE on Thursday told the Blade in a statement the agency “is reviewing cases of individuals in detention deemed to be at higher risk for severe illness as a result of COVID-19.”

“Utilizing CDC guidance along with the advice of medical professionals, ICE may place individuals in a number of alternatives to detention options,” said ICE. “Decisions to release individuals in ICE custody occur every day on a case-by-case basis.”

Statistics indicate ICE as of April 10 has released 693 detainees during the pandemic.

Immigration Equality last week said ICE released four of its gay clients with HIV who had been detained at the Winn Correctional Center; the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, La.; and La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz. Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based group that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants, says five LGBTQ asylum seekers who had been at La Palma Correctional Facility and the Eloy Detention Center, which is also in Arizona, left ICE custody on March 23.

The Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Ariz., on July 22, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ICE on March 4 released Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who won asylum based on persecution he suffered in his native Cuba because he is a journalist. Valdés had been in ICE custody in Louisiana and Mississippi for nearly a year before his release.

Los Angeles Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González shortly after his release from the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La., on March 4, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

ICE less than two weeks after Valdés’ release suspended in-person visitation at all of its detention facilities as part of its response to the pandemic. Media reports nevertheless indicate more than 30,000 people remain in ICE custody.

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Minnesota

Trans student leads walk out over sexual assault allegations in Minnesota

“It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault”

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Melinda, Eben, Ferris, and Steven Santineau (Photo Credit: Santineau family)

PLYMOUTH, Mn. – Armstrong High School senior Ferris Santineau had decided that he was over being talked down to and patronized by school officials over his concerns that an alleged perpetrator of sexual assaults- a fellow student, was still allowed on campus.

The 17-year-old, who identifies as trans-male and bisexual, led a protest of approximately 250 plus fellow students and classmates out to the athletic fields Friday afternoon to send a highly visible message that enough was enough.

Santineau, who spoke to the Blade by phone immediately after the protest rally, said that his actions and the support from other students stemmed from a series of alleged sexual assaults against another 17-year-old Trans student on the campus that he is a close friend of.

According to Santineau, school administrators had been far less willing to believe the victim and when he attempted to intervene, he was met with an adversarial attitude by the school resource officer, (SRO) and a staff member who kept him in room for ninety minutes and interrogated him by himself. Santineau, told the Blade that he felt threatened by that encounter, noting that the entire time of the interview, the SRO had his hand placed on top of his taser on his duty belt.

Santineau, also told the Blade that he has been diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD) which made the confrontation with the SRO and staff member worse.

“I felt like it was an interrogation, I have ADHD and asked them to be patient, but they kept interrupting me which made it worst,” he said. “I was trying to keep track of what we were talking about, then they’d interrupt and I’d try to ask a question then they told me I needed to be patient.” He added that he felt as though they were not listening at all.

He characterized the school administrators, the SRO and other staff as not believing the victim and even after multiple students and he had approached them to plead for the alleged perpetrator to be removed from campus, instead allowed him to stay enrolled and at least two occasions escorted the alleged assailant to his car. His presence had caused the victim to not attend classes and stay away from the school..

Santineau noted that Armstrong is running both in-person and virtual classes as a result of COVID-19 protocols.

Asked why the victim, his best friend, hadn’t reported the incidents to law enforcement or others and Santineau’s answer was blunt; “He didn’t think anything would be done about it especially since he was dating the assailant- and he wasn’t going to be believed.”

Steven Santineau and his wife Melinda, Ferris’ parents, are frustrated and angered by the high school administrators attitudes. Steven Santineau told the Blade that he and his wife had gone to the school Friday to support his son’s rally and to be there in solidarity with the students and the victim who they also know.

“I spoke to the principal who basically said that I was lucky that the school was communicating with me. He literally implied that the only people the school would be dealing with was the victim and his parents- it was a ‘ we don’t need to deal with you mind your business,’ attitude,” Steven Santineau said. He indicated that the school was also blaming his son for creating a firestorm on social media when according to the school, “as a result of the ‘interview’ the school claimed that only Ferris was knowledgeable of the assaults.” The Santineaus say that is untrue.

What stood out to both he and his wife were the number of students at the rally who spoke out on the subject of sexual assaults. “It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault and the school took no action,” Melinda Santineau said.

In the case of the first victim, according to Ferris Santineau, nearly half the of sexual assaults took place on campus with the remainder off-campus. His father noted that the school claimed to him that it had reviewed three years of video surveillance footage from school property in a single day prior to Friday’s rally.

Ferris Santineau indicated that because the alleged perpetrator was still attending Armstrong, he and the others want him expelled and a proper investigation conducted. His father told the Blade that principal said that the victim needed to file a police report and the school would then take appropriate action.

“I want my friend to feel safe,” Santineau told the Blade “I want the school to actually do something when somebody comes to them, because during the protest I asked ‘How many people felt like they weren’t being heard?’ many more hands came up. ‘how many people were sexually assaulted?’ too many hands came up. ‘How many people were silenced?’ and like that.”

His parents want a greater sense of accountability but are frustrated with the lack of proactive action on the part of staff. The school notified parents via text and emails about the situation after the rally not prior Steven Santineau said and provided the Blade with a screenshot. He added another screenshot with student comments taken after the text was posted to social media accounts.

Calls to the Robbinsdale Area Schools, the district for Armstrong High by the Blade were not returned, however, in a statement to local NBC affiliate KARE 11 in Minneapolis, Armstrong administrators say they are investigating the alleged sexual assault between two students while students demand expulsion.

KARE also reported that on September 16, a letter was sent to inquiring parents that detailed the initial investigation.

“We have been in contact with the family and shared options with them, including the option to file a police report,” the letter stated, in part.

In the meanwhile the Santineau family is upset at the seemingly cavalier manner the school is handling the situation and angered at the treatment their son has received.

Video from KARE NBC 11 Minneapolis: Hundreds of students walk out of Armstrong High School to protest sexual assault allegations:

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Texas

High School removes LGBTQ ‘Safe Space’ stickers- students walk out

“These aren’t political stickers, they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students”

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Photo Credit: GLSEN

IRVING, Tx. — A sizable number of the student body of a suburban Dallas, Texas high school walked out in protest after faculty members were forced to remove LGBTQ “safe space” stickers from their classroom doors.

Dallas ABC News affiliate WFAA ABC 8 reported that hundreds of students walked out of MacArthur High School on Wednesday after students said they began noticing the stickers were being removed from the classroom doors by the administration.

Carrying rainbow flags, the students walked out protesting what they describe as targeted discrimination against the school’s LGBTQ+ students and teachers.

One teacher reported a Safe Space poster she had printed and laminated was missing from outside her classroom too. “I was freaked. The kids were freaked out,” Rachel Stonecipher, an English teacher and sponsor of the campus’ Gay Straight Alliance told CBS-DFW.

Students, she said, immediately wondered who had removed them and what message their disappearance was sending.

“I was a little scared too because I’m the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher,” said Stonecipher. She and at least four other teachers signed an e-mail to the principal asking for an explanation.

In a statement released to the media, the Irving Independent School District administration said that district policy does not allow teachers to use classrooms to “transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues.

“To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners, and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways, or offices are curriculum-driven and neutral in viewpoint,” the statement added.

“These aren’t political stickers, they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students,” Stonecipher told reporters.

Irving police were at the school during the walkout as an added presence.

“We have extra resources deployed at MacArthur HS to maintain a safe environment for all,” Irving police tweeted.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lambda Legal seeks to add two more Trans plaintiffs in West Virginia suit

Federal class-action lawsuit challenging blanket exclusion of health care for Trans people in WVA’s Medicaid & state employee health plan

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Shauntae Anderson and Leanne James (Photo Credit; Lambda Legal)

CHARLESTON, WVa. – Lambda Legal filed a motion seeking leave to add two additional plaintiffs—a Medicaid participant and a public employee—to its federal class-action lawsuit challenging West Virginia’s blanket exclusion of health care coverage for transgender people in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

If granted, Shauntae Anderson, who is a Medicaid participant, and Leanne James, a public employee and Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) member would be added as additional plaintiffs to Fain v. Crouch.

“My life as a Black transgender woman has not been easy. I suffered years of agony and desperation without appropriate care and treatment for my gender dysphoria. Like other Medicaid participants, I rely on Medicaid for health care coverage and it has been heartbreaking to hear that just because I am transgender, I can’t access coverage for care that is medically necessary. It is not only inhumane but also unjust to be singled out this way,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson.  

“It is deeply upsetting that I am deprived of coverage for critical and urgent health care simply because I am transgender. As a public employee and PEIA member, being denied coverage for medically necessary care that cisgender state employees have full access to is an insult to my dignity. The exclusion in the state employee health plans is a reminder to myself and other transgender state employees that we are being denied equal compensation for equal work.” said plaintiff Leanne James.

Filed last November in West Virginia’s Southern District, Fain v. Crouch is a class action lawsuit challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and 15,000 state employees, some of whom are transgender. 

“The state of West Virginia continues to deny medically necessary gender-confirming health care to transgender West Virginians – via explicit and targeted exclusions. West Virginia’s ban on gender-confirming care is unconstitutional and discriminatory; it causes physical, emotional, and financial distress; and it denies transgender West Virginians basic dignity, equality, and respect. Ms. Anderson and Ms. James are just two of many transgender people in West Virginia who are being denied basic health care just because of who they are.” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case.

“We admire Ms. Anderson and Ms. James for stepping forward and joining our original plaintiffs in this lawsuit,” said Nicole Schladt, Associate Attorney at Nichols Kaster, PLLP. “Together, we seek an end to healthcare discrimination in West Virginia.”

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