Reps. Grijalva and Chu Call for Investigation on Sexual Assaults in ICE Facilities

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Grijalva released the following statement after he and Rep. Judy Chu led 71 Members of Congress in sending a letter to top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials demanding increased accountability and transparency over claims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment within immigrant detention facilities. The letter comes in response to a complaint filed by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) which highlights the prevalence of sexual misconduct and the lack of recourse for victims within immigrant detention facilities.  

In the letter, the lawmakers highlight the fact that, “The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse against DHS component agencies between January 2010 and July 2016, according to CIVIC’s complaint. Of the 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse, the DHS-OIG opened investigations into only 225 of them, or 0.07%.”

Full statements are below:

“DHS and its partner agencies must be held accountable for rampant complaints of sexual assault, abuse and harassment within their immigrant detention facilities,” Rep Grijalva said. “Many of those being held have fled violence, have been victims of rape, or were otherwise subject to traumatic events. For DHS to carelessly dismiss, ignore, or even try to erase such serious claims is not only unconscionable but also unlawful under existing PREA protections. We have both a moral and legal obligation to prevent sexual misconduct from happening in detention centers, and further must ensure that victims have a path to legal recourse when incidents do occur.”

“Even more alarming are efforts undertaken to destroy records related to sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. If this were any other federal agency, there would be an outpouring of public demands for greater transparency and accountability. However, because we are dealing with victims who are always in the shadows, far away from their families and outside of the public eye, we are seeing a coordinated attempt to eliminate any evidence of wrongdoing. I strongly urge DHS and DOJ leadership to act swiftly to conduct comprehensive investigations of sexual assault in immigrant detention facilities, and for ICE to withdraw its petition to permanently destroy all records pertaining to sexual assault claims.” 

“Immigrants are among the most vulnerable people – many of whom are children away from their families,” said Rep. Chu. “And being detained puts them completely at the mercy of others, who sometimes abuse that power in unscrupulous ways as we have too often seen over the years. That anybody should experience sexual assault, but especially anybody in these terrible conditions, is absolutely unacceptable. There are already myriad problems with immigrant detention facilities and the entire policy of treating immigrants as prisoners, but the threat of sexual assault should not be among it. We need an investigation, more oversight, and reform to ensure that we are protecting those in our care.”

“Homeland Security has established a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, but this policy is not properly enforced,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “In fact, to our knowledge, nothing has been done to curb sexual abuse at ICE facilities since we filed our civil rights complaint in April. Instead, ICE has petitioned the National Archives to trash its records of sexual assault. Through its attempt to destroy evidence of wrongdoing, ICE is sending a message that perpetrators of sexual abuse of immigrants will be protected. We cannot allow ICE to operate with impunity behind closed doors.”

Full text of the letter can be found here.

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