ICE Detention Center Says It’s Not Responsible for Staff's Sexual Abuse of Detainees

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government impose criminal liability on correctional facility staff who have sexual contact with people in their custody. These laws recognize that any sexual activity between detainees and detention facility staff, with or without the use of force, is unlawful because of the inherent power imbalance when people are in custody. Yet, one immigration detention center is trying to avoid responsibility for sexual violence within its walls by arguing that the detainee “consented” to sexual abuse.

E.D., an asylum-seeker and domestic violence survivor from Honduras, was sexually assaulted by an employee while she was detained with her 3-year-old child at the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania. At the time of the assault, E.D. was 19 years old.

She filed suit against the detention center and its staff for their failure to protect her from sexual violence, even though they were aware of the risk. The record in the case, E.D. v. Sharkey, shows that her assailant coerced and threatened her, including with possible deportation, while the defendants stood by and made jokes.

Although the employee pled guilty to criminal institutional sexual assault under Pennsylvania law, the defendants contend that they should not be liable for any constitutional violations. Their argument rests in part on their assessment that the sexual abuse was “consensual” and that they should be held to a different standard because the Berks Family Residential Center is an immigration detention facility rather than a jail or prison.  

The ACLU, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and partner organizations filed an amicus brief this week supporting E.D., explaining that officials wield such tremendous control over the lives of those in their custody, including through coercion and exploitation, that consent to sexual contact cannot be freely given in these circumstances. We also discuss how sexual violence in custodial settings is a serious and pervasive issue, including in immigration detention. For many years, the ACLU, various advocacy groups, and immigrants themselves have reported on the unsafe conditions in immigration detention, including sexual violence and the retaliation that detained immigrants face when they decide to come forward with these violations.  

A recent investigation into sexual abuse in immigration detention found that there were 1,448 allegations of sexual abuse filed with ICE between 2012 and March 2018. In 2017 alone, there were 237 allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities.

Other reports include a 2014 complaint documenting widespread allegations of sexual harassment at the Karnes County Residential Center, where more than 500 women were detained with their children. In 2017, advocates filed a complaint on behalf of eight immigrants who recounted their experiences of sexual violence while detained in various ICE detention facilities across the country.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2013 that officials at immigration prisons and jails failed to report 40 percent of sexual abuse allegations to the ICE headquarters. After looking at 10 different detention centers and analyzing over 70 cases of sexual abuse, researchers found that only 7 percent of 215 allegations of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities from 2009 to 2013 were substantiated, calling into question the thoroughness of investigations as well as reporting and oversight mechanisms.

Sexual violence impacts immigrants across federal agencies that are charged with immigrant detention. Most recently in Arizona, the state’s Department of Health Services, which licenses facilities that are used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to detain migrant children, moved to revoke the license of Southwest Key, a nonprofit contractor that rakes in about a half a billion dollars to detain migrant children in facilities across the country. The state moved to revoke the group’s license because Southwest Key failed to comply with required employee background checks. At least three former employees have been arrested for sexually abusing migrant children. One was convicted, and one of the facilities was closed down following allegations of staff abusing children.    

These are not isolated cases. They clearly show that officials are not doing enough to detect and respond to incidents of sexual abuse in immigration detention. The result is that immigrants are put at serious risk for sexual violence while they are detained.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed by Congress in 2003 to protect against sexual assault in prisons and jails across the country. It took the Department of Homeland Security until 2014 to finalize regulations implementing PREA. Even with those regulations in place, DHS PREA standards do not protect immigrants in all detention facilities because the agency has taken the position that those requirements can only apply when the agency enters into new contracts or renews or modifies old ones.

Rather than meaningfully addressing these endemic problems in immigration detention, the Trump administration continues to aggressively target immigrants and asylum seekers by stripping away legal protections, ramping up enforcement, and expanding immigration detention. E.D.’s case highlights the real need for greater protections against sexual abuse and more robust oversight and accountability measures in immigration detention, not less.     

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Anonymous

Your Prez Chump WILL end ANYONE wanting to go to the USA by destroying the entire country, bit-by-bit.

Soon, NO ONE will even want or be allowed to visit, and the USA will be owned by Russia in it's entirety. The American citizens now in the USA will not be allowed to leave. Mark my words. You're being caged and shackled, one group at a time. Will the masses wake up before it's too late?

Anonymous

Hey genius. Did you read the article? Most of the cases reported came before Trump. I know little things like facts don't matter to you, but to a lot of us thsy do.

Anonymous

This is awful. It should be stopped and the detention centers should be held liable. All of this has nothing to do with Trump's broader policies. Enforcing the law, good. Enforcing the law incorrectly, bad. This isn't rocket science. Fix the problem - no more sexual assault in detention centers. Don't create a million new problems by advocating the end of such centers.

Anonymousmichae...

To Hell with them they get what they got comeing to them. They are all thiefs whores and perverts any way. They just think they know what abuse is if l had my way when l got through with them they would know for sure what abuse is. Send them back where they came from we do not need are whant them hear.lt should be the feath pendley to sneak into this country.

Anonymous

Sick administration. It is againt the law to rape women in our country.

Ask Bill Cosby.....who is now in jail for the same offense.

I think the boss is the immigration program should take personal responsibility for NOT stopping thes criminals he or she hired....

Anonymous

That's a shame this is happening. But they made the choice to come here Illegally and have no rights as a citizen. These people are criminals themselves. Maybe is was consensual it's word against word. Plus these aren't people seeking shit except free shit and they know they have little of a chance getting fucked over because people think they should be left alone and free when they broke US law. This is a form of invasion no matter how you look at it.

Angie

That's your excuse? I just do nazi it.

Also, there's only one way to seek asylum in the US, and that is to come to our borders. Your complaint against these people is made-up BS.

Also, also, my scottish/norwegian/swedish/finnish forebears did not have to wait in any legal process to get into the USA since they all showed up before racist immigration laws were imposed in 1870. So, that complaint of yours also means nothing to me.

Your ancestors probably did not wait in any lines or fill out any paperwork either. It's just a made-up, bull-sh1t, racist process.

Anonymous

I guess no one noticed that the majority of the claims came before Trump took office, yet the writer bashes Trump. Typical. The last line says Trump continues to take rights away yet never mentions any he took away. Ok, go back to your Trump bashing.

sandyh

i'd like to know just how these perverts get these jobs in the first place? really amazed at how MANY (assuming) men are sexual abusers...are they just drawn to these types of jobs because they know they can sexually attack these poor women and children and will not be drawn and quartered for it? disgusting! this country is getting to be a pretty sick place to live...

Anonymous

And who the hell is MF. Cabrones hijis de putas abusadores

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