By Elise Foley and Marina Fang
June 24, 2015
President Barack Obama was heckled Wednesday during a White House event honoring LGBT Pride Month by an undocumented LGBT activist protesting his administration's policies on deportation and undocumented LGBT immigrants.
"Not one more deportation!" Jennicet Gutiérrez shouted, before being escorted from the room by Secret Service agents.
Obama appeared angry at the interruption and addressed Gutiérrez directly. "No, no, no. Listen, you're in my house. It's not respectful. Shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this," he said.
Gutiérrez, a 29-year-old transgender woman, came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 15. She is in the process of getting a green card through her sister, but is currently undocumented. At Wednesday's event, she said she intended to deliver a letter bringing the abuse of undocumented LGBT immigrants to Obama's attention.
"The letter is asking to release our communities from detention centers and to stop deportation," Gutiérrez said in an interview before the event.
The Williams Institute estimated in 2013 that there were 267,000 adult undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who identified as LGBT.
The Department of Homeland Security recognizes LGBT individuals as a "special vulnerability," which officers are instructed to consider when making decisions on detention and deportation.
But LGBT people are nevertheless detained, despite the risk of abuse in holding facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds about 75 transgender immigrants each night, most of them transgender women seeking asylum, according to report by Fusion published in November. The report found that many transgender women are housed with men, and one in five confirmed sexual assaults within the facilities involved a transgender woman, according to Fusion.
Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Michael Honda (D-Calif.) and 33 other House Democrats signed a letter this week asking Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to improve treatment of LGBT people by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
"The alarming rates of sexual assaults of non-heterosexual detainees should be a wakeup call for ICE," Honda said in a statement. "Even more dire is the fact ICE continues to detain transgender women in men's detention facilities. ICE has the power to determine suitable alternatives to detain LGBT persons, but instead they continue to ignore safer alternatives. Our letter calls on ICE to use the power they have to create a safer and more humane alternative that will treat LGBT individuals with respect and dignity."
Obama briefly addressed immigration in his remarks at Wednesday's event. "Those of us who know freedom and opportunity thanks to the toil and blood of those who came before us, we have an extra responsibility to extend freedom to those who are still marginalized," Obama said, mentioning "immigrants who deserve a pathway to be able to, to get right with the law," among other groups.
UPDATE: 7:30 p.m. -- After the event, Gutierrez said in a statement that she was disappointed by Obama's response.
"I am outraged at the lack of leadership that Obama demonstrated," she said. "He had no concern for the way that LGBTQ detainees are suffering. As a transwoman, the misgendering and the physical and sexual abuse -- these are serious crimes that we face in detention centers. How can that be ignored?"
Watch a clip of Obama's remarks above.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com