A FEW DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS LAST YEAR, Ruby Corado, a longtime transgender activist in Washington, D.C., received a telephone call while watching late-night TV. The number on her iPhone was from Rappahannock Regional Jail, about an hour’s drive south of the nation’s capital in Stafford, Va. Rappahannock is one of more than 200 facilities nationwide that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house those awaiting a judge's decision on whether they can remain in the United States or will be deported back to their home country. On any given day, about 32,000 people are held in detention, many for violating immigration law — a civil, not criminal, offense.
Weak and distraught, the transgender woman calling Corado at 11 p.m from Rappahannock was one of them. Her name was Kripcia, and she had been held for eight months in what ICE calls "administrative segregation" — solitary confinement, in non-bureaucratic terms. A native of El Salvador, she was arrested in early 2011 for failure to pay a cab.