LOS ANGELES – A transgender immigrant held in solitary confinement for approximately seven months at a Georgia immigration detention center that is under investigation for abuse 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 Mexico who was held at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia. While there, the then 26-year-old was subjected to punitive segregation and solitary confinement. She was held near cisgender male detainees and subject to repeated harassment and assault.

“For too long, our country has tolerated terrible deprivations of basic human rights for immigrants in detention, even though they are guilty of no crime,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Too often, the worst violations have been visited upon Latino immigrants who are transgender; this ongoing pattern must be ended swiftly and permanently.”

ICDC is an immigration detention center operated by Irwin County that contracts with federal officials. In May, the Biden administration announced plans to close down the facility following published reports of forced sterilization of immigrant women held there

The lawsuit accuses the federal government of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that allows individuals to seek compensatory damages from the government.

The plaintiff, who is listed as “P.R.,” is a transgender female who was arrested in Monroe, North Carolina after a 2018 car accident that did not involve any other cars or individuals.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) transferred her to the ICDC in June 2018 where she was immediately placed in solitary confinement in the segregated housing unit because she is transgender.  She was left in her cell for about 22 hours a day, had very limited physical and mental stimulation, and was deprived of any meaningful human interaction.

“We are glad that the Biden Administration has taken an important first step in recognizing the abuse that occurred at the Irwin County Detention Center and severing ties with that facility,” said Mark Begnaud of Eshman Begnaud LLC, an Atlanta-based civil rights and personal injury law firm.  “But that was only the first step; we still must reckon with the unconscionable acts of cruelty that occurred there.  Our client did not deserve to be locked away in prolonged solitary confinement, a punishment the UN regards as torture, solely because she is transgender.”

This is the second lawsuit filed against the federal government by MALDEF on behalf of a transgender detainee. An asylum seeker who was subject to similar abuse and solitary confinement filed suit in December 2020.

“It is unconscionable that the United States government failed to follow its own policies and rules requiring the safe and secure housing and treatment of transgender immigrants and instead subjected P.R. to inhumane and punitive treatment solely because she is transgender,” said Tanya Pellegrini, a staff attorney at MALDEF.  “Transgender immigrants should be treated with dignity and respect.  Our lawsuit seeks to bring justice for our client and other transgender immigrants that have suffered cruelty in immigration detention.”

Read the lawsuit HERE.