Sexual Assault in Immigration Detention

Christina Fialho, Co-Executive Director, CIVIC
Watchdog Organization Files Civil Rights Complaint Alleging Rising Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Harassment in U.S. Immigration Detention Facilities
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national advocacy organization, filed a complaint today calling for a federal investigation into reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in immigration detention facilities and for the rapid development of protocols to ensure that all such reports of sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated and that relevant records are disclosed to the public.
April 11, 2017, Washington, DC – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) has filed a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detailing the prevalence of reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the lack of adequate government investigation into these reports.
For its complaint, CIVIC analyzed data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for sexual assault data from the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG received at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse filed by people in detention between May 2014 and July 2016, meaning that the OIG received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse from people in detention per day during this time period. CIVIC found that the OIG investigated only 24 of those complaints, or 2.4% of the total.
CIVIC determined that more complaints were submitted against Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) than any other DHS component agency. In addition to the 1,016 complaints of sexual abuse/assault reported by people in detention, there were 402 complaints of “coerced sexual contact”, 196 complaints of “sexual harassment”, and 380 complaints of “physical or sexual abuse” lodged against ICE.

“The data is particularly disturbing given that rape and sexual assault are known to be highly underreported in immigration detention facilities due to fears of retaliation, social isolation, language barriers, and the knowledge that allegations are not seriously investigated,” said Rebecca Merton, Independent Monitor and Program Coordinator of CIVIC’s National Visitation Network.
CIVIC also analyzed data regarding calls made to the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line (DRIL) between October 2012 and March 2016. According to this data, the highest number of DRIL calls related to sexual and/or physical abuse incidents came from the Jena/LaSalle Detention Facility, followed by the Houston Contract Detention Facility, Adelanto Correctional Facility, Northwest Detention Center and the San Diego Contract Facility. All top five detention facilities with the most sexual and physical complaints are privately operated.
“If the Trump administration is serious about ‘sexual assault awareness and prevention,’ then he can start by adhering to a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse in immigration detention,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC. “If DHS is either unable or unwilling to ensure that zero sexual abuses occur in immigration detention, then Congress should defund immigration detention and close all facilities.”
CIVIC is submitting this complaint on behalf of 27 people, including 8 class representatives, who are in immigration detention or have been released from detention and have experienced sexual abuse.
One of these individuals, Rosanna Santos, was sexually harassed by a corrections officer in immigration detention at the York County Jail, who told her that if she did not do whatever he said that he would sodomize her. Shortly after filing a complaint about the incident, Ms. Santos was inexplicably placed into solitary confinement for 11 days.
“A lot of the girls there had problems like this. Most of them don’t even end up complaining or saying anything about it because they’re scared of retaliation,” said Rosanna Santos, a class representative in the complaint. “Since my complaint, nothing has happened. It is like they want to keep me quiet.”
In light of the disturbing reports and numerous sexual abuse allegations detailed in their complaint, CIVIC is urging Congress to establish the second bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to investigate the effectiveness of PREA in preventing sexual assault and violations of PREA in CBP and ICE detention facilities. CIVIC is also calling on DHS to ensure that all DHS facilities, including all ICE detention facilities and CBP holding facilities, have not only contractually adopted but also implemented the DHS PREA standards, and to proactively and quarterly publish information on all reported complaints of sexual abuse in DHS facilities.
Read a copy of the complaint here.