Appalling Treatment of Transgender Asylum Seeker Draws Lawsuit

The appalling treatment of a transgender asylum seeker held in US detention has drawn a lawsuit from the ACLU.

The suit is against the federal government, local government and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and charges that they failed to protect Tanya Guzman-Martinez from sexual violence, assault and other mistreatment.

Guzman-Martinez was being held at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. She was sexually assaulted by a guard who threatened to deport her back to Mexico if she did not comply with his demands. Pinal County court records show that the guard was charged with ‘attempted unlawful sexual contact’ but was only sentenced to two days, with time served.

After the sexual assault, she was placed back in a male population rather than in a woman’s cell and suffered further abuse including another sexual assault.

The accusations, according to the ACLU court papers, include that “on one occasion, a detention officer told other detainees that they could ‘have her’ if they gave him three soup packets.”

Alessandra Soler Meetze of the ACLU of Arizona said:

“They did nothing. They failed to protect her from abusive staff members. They failed to protect her from male detainees.”

ACLU of Arizona Immigrant Rights Attorney, Victoria Lopez, said:

Tanya left Mexico to seek refuge from the persecution she suffered because of her gender identity, and was exposed to even greater trauma at the hands of  immigration officials who failed to take appropriate measures to protect her while she was in their custody.

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona, Amber Cargile, told Fronteras Desk:

While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on pending litigation, the agency is firmly committed to providing for the welfare and humane treatment of all those in its custody. ICE is currently in the process of implementing comprehensive reforms to the agency’s detention system. The reforms are designed to prioritize the health and safety of detainees in ICE’s custody, while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the detention system. ICE is focused on sensible, sustainable reforms that are attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.

Although Guzman-Martinez was released from detention more than a year and a half ago, she still suffers from the emotional pain she endured while at Eloy.

The US has come in for consistent criticism over persistent sexual abuse in immigration detention centers and its refusal to extend the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to those in immigration detention. The ACLU has gathered more than 185 reports of sexual abuse in immigrant detention facilities across America, which they say represents a small proportion of cases.

ACLU of Arizona cooperating attorney Kirstin Story, of the law firm of Lewis and Roca LLP, said:

When we tout our country as a beacon of freedom, fairness, and individual liberties for all, the United States, as well as state and local governments, and the people and entities with whom they routinely contract, must live up to those values, especially for those people who seek refuge in this country because of those values. Unfortunately, that did not occur in the Tanya Guzman-Martinez case and in many others. We hope that this lawsuit is a step toward remedying these failures.

The ACLU-AZ report “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers,” details further maltreatment of other LGBT detainees.

Related stories:

Success: FBI Updates Narrow Definition of Rape

Contradiction in How Obama Admin Treating LGBT Refugees

More Complaints on Treatment of LGBT Refugee and Immigrant Detainees

Photo credit: iStockphoto


Mandi A.
Amanda A6 years ago


Jolyne R.
Jolyne R6 years ago

It's pathetic. How can anyone be so cruel? I feel sorry for Tanya. I hate the others, even if I hate hating.

Paul canning
Paul canning6 years ago

@Debbie B.

Try contacting ACLU-AZ

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Gina P.
Regina P6 years ago

I'm not surprised with the current homophobia and hatred for all differences (thanks to Republican tea partiers and other ignorant people). It also fits with the current anti-immigrant attitudes held by the same group. If it's not just like us, it must be wrong. I am so so tired of the intolerance!!

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey6 years ago

John M. You are a Neanderthal. Your comment shows your ignorance (fleeing to another country and applying for asylum is NOT illegal), your lack of compassion, your lack of empathy, and your lack of Christian (I assume you are Christian) ethics. Get back to your cave.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

John M. If these people came here illegally, then why do they call them Immigration Detention Centers and not Jail?

Debbie Brady
Debbie Brady6 years ago

Secretary of State Hillary Cliton's speach in Geneva last week had me in tears last week. I am a transgendered woman and know the abuses that can come about becauce of my gender identity.
This poor girl's plight at the hands of our Goverment has brought me to tears again, but for the opposite reason.
If our Goverment is going to talk the talk then it must also walk the walk.
I wish I knew how to get in touch with this poor girl, I don't have much but I do have a spare bedroom and she is welcome to it.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Yeah, great way to fix the budget and the economy, creating law suits all over the place due to government stupidity and ignorance. Something tells me that these clowns running the show have NO interest in saving America or fixing a single problem in the U.S, just spewing their own ignorant biases to gain popularity with the lowest common denominators in the country.

Erika Miller
Erika M6 years ago