LGBTQ Immigration Advocates Demand ICE Release HIV-Positive Detainees

“We cannot allow the negligence of the federal government to let our people die again."

The national LGBTQ immigrant rights organization Immigration Equality has hit ICE with a federal complaint for what they are calling “grossly negligent medical care and grave risk to their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The complaint, filed with the Department of Homeland Security, calls on the agency to immediately release HIV-positive asylum seekers as coronavirus ravages the nation.

“Our community has faced a life-threatening pandemic before. Then, as now, we raised the alarm with government officials who did nothing until we forced them to,” said Aaron C. Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality in a statement. “We cannot allow the negligence of the federal government to let our people die again. All people living with HIV must be released from immigration detention immediately. Every day DHS waits will have fatal consequences.”

The complaint is filed on behalf of six asylum seekers that the organization says fled anti-LGBTQ persecution, or face threat due to their HIV status or political opinion. All are eligible for parole, says Immigration Equality.

ICE’s track record for caring for those with HIV and providing basic healthcare for LGBTQ people has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In May 2018, transgender asylum seeker Roxsana Hernández died of an AIDS-related illness in ICE custody at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico.

There are reports of detainees on hunger strike for basic necessities, like soap and toilet paper.

Bridget Crawford, legal director of Immigration Equality, called the situation a “COVID-19 nightmare” in a statement to the media.

“DHS has fallen so appallingly short of the Constitutionally mandated basic duty of care for people in detention that they are violating the law every day,” said Crawford. “The accounts we have heard from detained people living with HIV have been outrageous. Some of them have gone without medication for weeks or even months.”

The complaint accuses ICE of regularly failing to provide regular HIV treatment, specialists for treating HIV, placing detainees in unhygienic conditions in the midst of the pandemic, and refusing those in custody basic health information.

Asked to comment on the complaint, a spokesperson for ICE directed NewNowNext to the agency’s website on coronavirus which states that the safety and wellbeing of detainees is one of the agencies top priorities.

“In addition, ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus,” it says.

The site does not address people with HIV or detainee access to soap and sanitizer.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.