Ronan Farrow Finds a New Cause: Transgender Illegal Immigrants

Ronan Farrow could barely contain his glee on his August 7 program at being able to work an odd twist in a border-crisis story that ensured the segment was a two-fer involving illegal immigrants and, wait for it, the transgendered. 

As “schools across the country are bracing for up to 50,000" “undocumented migrants” -- MSNBC no longer refers to them as immigrants, let alone illegal ones -- the host of Ronan Farrow Daily reports, “an interesting wrinkle" has occurred in the form of Marichuy Leal Gamino, “an undocumented transgender woman held in custody with men.” [See video below. Click here for MP3 audio]

At first, the MSNBC host tried to place the blame on the fact that the prison was private, not public. He asked MSNBC and Telemundo host Jose Diaz-Balart, “have you seen a difference in how the undocumented immigrants are treated in private centers versus ones run by the government?” When Diaz responded “ not really,” and blamed the government for being “caught off guard” (no mention of the Obama administration specifically), Farrow switched tactics, asking LGBT activist Tiq Milan “what does this story reveal about just how vulnerable sexual minorities in particular can be in the immigration system?”

Neither guest mentioned that if Obama enforced the law and deported minors or adults like Gamino in a timely fashion, they would not be forced to stay in detention centers where “conditions...are not safe.” Milan herself had been there for over a year and had not been in the most recent wave of illegal immigration. They also did not address the inherent danger and issues this occurrence calls to question in the liberal ideal of housing transgender women in male prisons where they are “harassed, bullied and threatened with rape” and finally assaulted.

Most surprising was Diaz-Balart’s admission that fear from communities on the border about increases in crime and violence is “well-founded fear.” Repeatedly, the Telemundo and MSNBC host has denied that the spike of illegal immigrants has increased crime on the border. However, when Ronan mentioned “border patrol agent who was allegedly murdered by two Mexican nationals” and asked “how much of this fear from communities is well founded?” Diaz Balart conceded:

The Department of Justice just this week has brought out the numbers of the crime that is seen in the Rio Grande valley area and a lot of the crime clearly has to do with people crossing from the Mexican border into the United States like these two alleged killers were deported up to four times, one of the two men that allegedly killed this border patrol agent. 

Has hell frozen over? Probably not. Milan concluded the segment by stating, "what we have to understand is that the immigration issue is also an LGBT issue."

See transcript below:

MSNBC
Ronan Farrow Daily
August 7, 2014
1:18 p.m. Eastern
6 minutes and 20 seconds


RONAN FARROW: Fresh tensions today over the flood of undocumented migrants across our border. USA Today reporting that schools across the country are bracing for up to 50,000 undocumented children. Many of them without parents. School districts are pleading for financial assistance from the federal government. For those not lucky enough to make it to those schools, they're in detention centers like these, getting shipped to them across the country. Those centers are triggering tough questions all day today from communities that don't want them and from human rights groups that say the conditions in these detention centers are not safe. And today, an interesting wrinkle. LGBT protests in one story that throws this crisis into relief. Marichuy Leal Gamino, an undocumented transgender woman held in custody with men, alleges that she was sexually assaulted at her detention center. Right now in Los Angeles, a protest is getting under way calling for Ms. Gamino’s immediate release. And more protections for LGBT detainees. Joining me now, MSNBC and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, a pleasure to finally have you on the show sir. Also with us is Tiq Milan from GLAAD, thank you both. So one of the interesting wrinkles about this case is that Ms. Gamino is being held in one of these privately owned, for-profit detention centers. Jose, you’ve been reporting on this story, have you seen a difference in how the undocumented immigrants are treated in private centers versus ones run by the government?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART: You know, Ronan, not really, in that these centers are really not set up for long-term housing of people and the government was clearly caught off guard by the amount of people that had been crossing the border even though this isn't really new. It didn't start in October of last year. The number, the increased number did start from October of last year. So, so  what happens is you have a lot of people coming in to places where really aren't set up for this many people and it's clearly a long-term issue that we as a nation have to deal with and yet the solutions seem to be band-aided short-term solutions and so things like we're reporting are probably not the only case that we're going to see of violations because it just doesn't seem like there's much of an organization and way to handle this many people.

FARROW: Tiq, what do you think? What does this story reveal about just how vulnerable sexual minorities in particular can be in the immigration system?

TIQ MILAN: Well, the massive detaining of innocent people is harsh, period. But it's particularly brutal for transgender people when there are laws put in place to protect them that aren’t being implemented. And there is no real recourse when an incident actually happens, so this is what we’re seeing with Marichuy. She's a 23-year-old transwoman who has been housed with men for a year. Has endured multiple instances of being harassed, bullied and threatened with rape. And on several occasions she made that known to detention staff. And instead of helping her, they ignored her. When it culminated into her actually being raped, instead of helping her, they tried to pressure her into signing a form of consent. This isn't an isolated incident as horrible as it is. 59 percent of transgender detainees have reported being sexually assaulted in these centers.

FARROW: That is extremely troubling. Jose, local officials all over the country are actually pushing back on these detention centers being brought to their communities. They’re citing safety concerns, they’re citing cost concerns. On the safety side, you've actually been reporting on this, this border patrol agent who was allegedly murdered by two Mexican nationals. How much of this fear from communities is well founded?

DIAZ-BALART: There's a lot of fear and well founded fear, Ronan. I just want to bring up an issue that our guest just said. This young lady has been housed for over a year. This is not part of the new wave of immigration coming over the border. And so this issue has been happening in our country for a long time now. It's just not been reported much. Back to the question at hand. The Department of Justice just this week has brought out the numbers of the crime that is seen in the Rio Grande valley area and a lot of the crime clearly has to do with people crossing from the Mexican border into the United States like these two alleged killers were deported up to four times, one of the two men that allegedly killed this border patrol agent. And so the question is, Ronan, you know, it's so easy to talk and take sides on the immigration reform issue and talk about it in passionate terms and say this is what must be done, but both sides agree that immigration is broken, right? And so -- and I was just looking at the Senate bill that passed over a year ago in a bipartisan fashion of the House didn't even want to talk about. But that bill has billions of dollars for exactly dealing with the porous border. It has an increase of 3500 agents, it even talks about the possibility of using the National Guard on the border in certain instances. So when we discuss immigration reform it's not just a dilettante conversation we're having about the hall of Congress, it affects real people and it affects people like this young lady who has been housed for over a year and no one's doing anything about it. It also affects the thousands of children that have crossed and now many times are now facing a new school year in a new country with languages they may not even know.

FARROW: And Jose you make such an important point about how long she's been held, it’s also about the type of person she is which representing a side you don't usually see talked about. She was born in Mexico but she was also raised in Arizona and was an American for much of her life functionally. That's some large portion of individuals in these detention centers and one of the things that makes this such a difficult issue. Tiq, as these protests unfold and as the government considers what to do about this case and others like it, should the LGBT community be doing more to ally itself with the immigration reform movement?

MILAN: Well, I think we should keep doing what we’re doing and there's always room to do more and to be better. And what we have to understand is that the immigration issue is also an LGBT issues because there's thousands of gay and transgender people who are seeking asylum because who they are is being criminalized or they just have absolutely no protections. They deserve to be protected under the law and be treated as if their lives matter.

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.