LOS ANGELES –  A Latino civil rights organization and co-counsel recently reached a settlement in two lawsuits filed against the U.S. government on behalf of transgender clients held in solitary confinement at a Georgia immigrant detention center.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Eshman Begnaud, LLC, a civil rights and personal injury law firm, filed the claims against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to seek compensatory damages from the government for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The two plaintiffs, one a transgender man, the other a transgender woman, were awarded a combined settlement of $533,250. Both were held at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia.

“While these settlements resolve matters for our two clients, the federal government must do more to protect immigrant detainees, most of whom have not been convicted of any crime warranting such extreme conditions of confinement,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The government should end the use of private, for-profit detention operators, and should take all necessary steps to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our immigration system.”

The first suit was filed in December 2020 on behalf of a transgender man known as “C.O.”. While at ICDC, the then 25-year-old immigrant from Ecuador 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. In August 2017, he requested asylum upon arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He was placed in expedited removal and eventually taken to ICDC where he was placed in solitary confinement for six months. In March of 2018 “C.O.” was transferred to a psychiatric hospital and was deported later that year.

The second lawsuit was filed in June 2021 on behalf of a then-26-year-old transgender woman listed as “P.R.”. While there, the immigrant from Mexico was subjected to punitive segregation and solitary confinement. She was held near cisgender male detainees and subject to repeated harassment and assault, according to the lawsuit. In 2018, “P.R.” was arrested in Monroe, North Carolina following a one-car accident. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) transferred her to the ICDC in June 2018 where she was immediately placed in solitary confinement.  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.

“Together these settlements amount to over half a million dollars,” said Rosa Saavedra Vanacore, MALDEF staff attorney. “Beyond this compensation, we wish to send a message that DHS should end the detention of transgender individuals. The department has proven incapable of protecting this population from unlawful harassment and abuse.”

The ICDC is a jail owned and operated by La Salle Corrections, a private prison company that contracts with Irwin County. The federal government contracted with ICDC to house immigrants until reports of forced sterilization of immigrant women held there surfaced in 2020. The Biden administration ended the contract in September 2021.

Read the “C.O.” complaint HERE.

Read the “C.O.” settlement agreement HERE.

Read the “P.R.” complaint HERE.

Read the “P.R.” settlement agreement HERE.