ATLANTA – A transgender asylum seeker held in solitary confinement for six months solely because of his gender identity is suing the federal government.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the law firm Eshman Begnaud filed the suit on behalf of an immigrant from Ecuador who was held at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia. While there, the then 25-year-old man was kept isolated in a small cell for months on end, denied hormone treatment, and prevented from accessing resources available to all other immigrants at the facility, according to the complaint.
“Every American should react with horror to the inhumane treatment delivered, in our own state of Georgia, to immigrants who sought protection in the United States,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Respect for the basic human rights of all persons must be restored and respected as a national value; we must end the routine demonization and deplorable treatment of transgender immigrants.”
The lawsuit accuses the Trump administration of violations under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that allows individuals to seek compensatory damages from the government for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiff, who is listed as “C.O.,” was assigned the sex of female at birth but has identified as male since childhood. In August 2017, he fled Ecuador and requested asylum upon arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He was placed in expedited removal and eventually taken to ICDC. Once there, he was immediately put in solitary confinement. He remained there for six months, sometimes going days with little or no human contact. During that time his mental health deteriorated, and in March of 2018 he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital and later deported that same year.
“Faced with persecution in his home country, our client flew to America and asked for asylum,” said Mark Begnaud of Eshman Begnaud LLC, an Atlanta-based civil rights and personal injury law firm. “Instead of protecting him or releasing him from custody, the American government locked our client away in prolonged solitary confinement, a punishment the UN regards as torture. We are taking on this fight because it is unconscionable that the American government would treat any person this way, let alone a vulnerable person seeking our country’s protection.”
The lawsuit alleges “C.O.” was subjected to conditions that violate federal detention standards and federal rules, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) that specifically seeks to restrict the use of solitary confinement as a way of protecting vulnerable individuals.
“C.O. came to the United States seeking refuge from the discrimination he faced in his native Ecuador as a transgender man,” said Adrian Hernandez, a staff attorney at MALDEF. “Rather than finding safety, C.O. became another victim of the United States’ callous and discriminatory immigration detention regime. Over the course of several months, C.O. was subjected to indefinite solitary confinement and denial of medical care. This lawsuit is the only way to hold the U.S. accountable for its failure to provide humane conditions in detention and to redress the significant harm C.O. suffered.”
The ICDC is an immigration jail operated by Irwin County that contracts with federal officials. It has drawn public scrutiny following recent reports of forced sterilization of immigrant women held there.
Read the lawsuit HERE.