I-Team: Tax money paying for jailed illegal immigrants’ sex-change hormones

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Christine Haas/11 News

Posted on December 15, 2010 at 12:30 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 4 at 5:06 PM

HOUSTON – While Texas lawmakers overturned legislation in 2006 that allowed inmates to receive Viagra with tax money, some inmates –including illegal immigrants -- are still receiving prescribed sex hormones behind bars.

Jose Centeno is proof. He just became a U.S. citizen, but in 2009, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detained him after investigating his immigration status and visa because of a previous felony drug conviction. ICE prescribed him sex hormones while he was locked up, because Centeno said it was medically necessary. 

"I'm transgender so I am taking female hormones," he said. "It's not a choice, I was born, and I already knew I was born, in the wrong body, so it wasn't a choice -- I need those meds/hormone therapy to be who I am, but it's not a choice."

Centeno is now known as Krystal.  He appeared to be a woman when he was detained by immigration, and he still does. He has never had surgery to alter his gender and doesn't plan to, but his daily dose of the female hormone Premarin helps him appear like a woman.

"The first thing you see is the growth of facial hair -- it slows down, it doesn't grow as fast as normal for a male,” Centeno said. "Of course with your breasts growing, your mind starts changing."

That change comes at a price.  Ultimately, tax money paid for the convicted felon -- who wasn't a U.S. citizen -- to maintain his appearance as a woman.

However, Centeno said the hormones were doing more than just controlling facial hair and maintaining breasts.

"When you have been taking hormones for so many years, suddenly you stop taking it, you start going back to the person you weren't happy with -- then it turns into depression mode," Centeno said.

ICE said it does not track transgendered detainees who are receiving hormone therapy, so they can't say how much money they’ve spent.  But ICE did say that since 2006 it's aware of 45 transgendered detainees who've been prescribed hormones. 

U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul said he believes this is another example of wasteful spending in government.

"The fact that he doesn't want to have facial hair in prison -- is that really something the taxpayers should be paying for?" McCaul asked.

Transgendered people argued that the hormones are necessary and said the real concern is depression. Centeno said without them, the mental state is disabling. 

Dr. Louis Rodriguez, an endocrinologist, said he commonly treats transgendered people, and said that the prescription may not be necessary.  

"Not unless a psychologist determines so, “ he said. “If they say, 'This individual is going to commit suicide, if they don't get hormones,' if a psych tells me this -- as an endocrinologist, I will prescribe it."

McCaul disagreed.

“I would argue that this isn't medically necessary, if he is depressed then there are anti-depressants he could be put on -- certainly prison is a depressing place," McCaul said.

ICE officials say they are currently writing a policy for transgendered people in detention. 

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