ICE Officers Overwhelmingly Use Their Discretion to Detain LGBT Immigrants

On November 20, 2014, as part of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a memorandum that established priorities to guide all aspects of immigration enforcement regarding the apprehension, detention, and removal of unauthorized immigrants.1 Those priorities have focused government resources on addressing threats to public safety, national security, and border security rather than on unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States for years without committing serious crimes.

That memorandum, in addition to outlining enforcement priorities, clarified that certain categories of vulnerable people—unless subject to mandatory detention—should not be detained absent extraordinary circumstances.2 Although the memo does not specifically mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender—or LGBT—immigrants, due to their extreme risk of abuse in detention, they are recognized as a “special vulnerability” category by the DHS.3 Data obtained recently by the Center for American Progress through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that despite the priorities outlined in the memo, the DHS elected to detain a higher percentage of LGBT immigrants who were not subject to mandatory detention in fiscal year 2015 than the year before the memorandum was issued.4 These data indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, officers ignored Secretary Johnson’s enforcement priorities when making custody decisions for LGBT immigrants.

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ICE Officers Overwhelmingly Use Their Discretion to Detain LGBT Immigrants