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ICE guidelines call for taxpayer-funded transgender hormone treatments for some detainees

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Sept. 28, 2011: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, left, speaks at a news conference in Washington alongside other immigration officials. (AP)

Transgender illegal immigrants would in some cases receive taxpayer-funded hormone therapy while in federal custody, under new guidelines put out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The transgender provision was one of many in the latest "national detention standards" manual released by ICE. It has already drawn complaints from one Republican congressman, who described it as a "hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants." 

The 2011 manual calls for detainees to be screened shortly after their arrival. That screening is supposed to examine everything from dental history to tobacco history to infections -- the last item on the checklist urges officers to ask about a detainee's "gender self-identification and history of transition-related care." 

If they are transgender and if they were already receiving hormone therapy before arriving at the detention center, ICE prescribes that they should continue to receive that treatment. 

"Transgender detainees who were already receiving hormone therapy when taken into ICE custody shall have continued access. All transgender detainees shall have access to mental health care, and other transgender-related health care and medication based on medical need.

"Treatment shall follow accepted guidelines regarding medically necessary transition-related care," the guidelines state. 

ICE defended the provision. 

Spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said it would only apply to those detainees who were already receiving hormone therapy -- in other words, a detainee could not decide once in custody to start taking it for the first time. Christensen cited medical reasons for the provision. 

"Generally speaking, there could be severe adverse medical complications involved in abruptly terminating ongoing hormone therapy," she said, adding that such complications would cost even more money to treat. 

A statement from ICE also noted that the policy is "in line to the policy of the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, and is the accepted industry standard."

Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, charged in a statement that the manual is part of a "broader pattern made by the Obama administration to reward lawbreakers." 

"The Obama administration's new detention manual is more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants. The administration goes beyond common sense to accommodate illegal immigrants and treats them better than citizens in federal custody," he said. 

But ICE noted that prisoners in criminal detention are different from those in ICE custody. "By law ICE is prohibited from detaining individuals for punitive reasons," the agency said in a statement. "ICE is only authorized to detain individuals in order to more efficiently effect their removal from the country. In that vein, detention reform is aimed at placing detainees in appropriate environments, based on their criminal or immigration history."