MILAN, N.M. (AP) — Behind a thick metal door and down a sterile hallway at a privately-run detention center in rural New Mexico, voices echo from the confines of a small outdoor recreation yard.
It’s a three-on-three volleyball match. The players, all clad in different colored jumpsuits, are transgender women awaiting the outcome of their cases while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Down the hall is a law library and a makeshift beauty salon. In the dorms, the television is tuned to a soccer match.
This is Unit 900 — the agency’s only permanent transgender detention unit.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering opening a second permanent facility where transgender migrants can be detained amid the influx of Central Americans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. While transgender migrants represent a small fraction of those in federal custody, their numbers have grown exponentially.
About 300 migrants who identify as transgender have been booked into the custody of U.S. immigration authorities since Oct. 1 — the highest number since officials started keeping track in 2015. There are currently about 115 in custody in 29 different facilities around the country.
That includes more than two dozen at the transgender unit at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, a small high desert community where many buildings are boarded up and abandoned motels line a stretch of historic Route 66. About a dozen more transgender migrants are being held in a temporary unit in southern Texas.
Immigration authorities have been the focus of much criticism over the treatment of transgender migrants, with advocacy groups claiming medical care is often lacking and that staff members are not adequately trained to deal with what they say is a vulnerable population at risk for harassment and abuse.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials dispute the allegations, saying the agency adheres to federal prison standards and made a significant investment when opening the New Mexico transgender unit two years ago.
By Susan Montoya Bryan for APNEWS.COM
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