Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention - Raquel's Story

Document Date: October 16, 2011


Raquel is a young mother of four children and comes from a country in Central America. The third of eight children, Raquel grew up in extreme poverty and her family often did not have enough to eat. Her parents were subsistence farmers, and Raquel only completed the first grade before she had to begin working in the fields with her parents. As a result, Raquel cannot read or write.

Raquel met the man who would become her common law husband when she was fourteen; when she was eighteen, she moved in with him and they began their life together. Her husband also grew up subsistence farming, but sought other opportunities to improve his and Raquel’s circumstances. He worked as a fisherman for a number of years before work in that industry slowed down and he returned to subsistence farming, but that work did not cover the bills for their growing family. He got a job working security for a company that sold telephone cards. Raquel’s husband had worked at his new job only about 6 weeks when he was gunned down as he was riding on a motorcycle with a colleague on a sales run. Because the police in her home country are corrupt and rarely investigate homicides, Raquel was unable to piece together exactly what happened to him. A few days after her husband’s death, strange men came to Raquel’s house and told her not to investigate his death or her family would be killed; one of them showed his weapon, andordered everyone to hit the floor.

Over the course of the next few months, Raquel received a phone call again threatening her family if she continued to investigate her husband’s death and noticed other strange occurrences that suggested she was being watched and/or followed. After consulting with her family and friends, she decided to leave her country and find work elsewhere so she could continue to support her family without the threat of violence from whoever killed her husband. She made it to the U.S. – Mexico bordeand entered the United States without inspection with a group of other migrants, guided by a coyote. The coyote separated male and female migrants and instructed the groups not to mix to ensure the female migrants’ safety. After several days of walking through the desert, U.S. immigration officials apprehended many members of the group. Raquel, two other migrants, and the coyote escaped detection and continued through the desert. They became increasingly exhausted and the coyote and one of the migrants who was a man took turns carrying Raquel and the other female migrant. The next day while they were resting, they saw immigration officials approaching them; Raquel was too tired to move and was taken into custody.

Raquel was transferred through several different facilities before arriving at Hutto.

At Hutto, an immigration official interviewed Raquel to determine whether she had a credible fear of persecution if she returned to her home country. After hearing Raquel’s story, the immigration officer concluded that Raquel did have a credible fear of persecution, and therefore a basis to seek asylum in the United States. Raquel was told she would be released from Hutto provided she could post a bond. A few days later Raquel found out the bond had been posted and approved.


The day I left, I was told to get dressed and collect my belongings because I would be leaving that day. An ICE officer walked me to the van and said, get in, that van is going to take you to the airport. I got in the van and he locked me in a metal cage, and he gave the keys to the driver. I am a Catholic and I crossed myself as I always do when I am going somewhere. The ICE officer told me the van would not stop and the door would not open until I got to the airport. He was a nice man, and he also told me not to fail to go to court because I have an opportunity to be here, and he wished me well.

We started driving. I was saying the rosary which is something else I always do when I am going on a trip. After a while the driver pulled off the road and stopped. He opened the door and unlocked the cage and gestured for me to get out. He told me to raise my hands and I did. Then he started touching me all over. He pulled up my bra, fondled my breasts, and put his hand down my pants. He was talking in English and touching himself. I asked him why he was doing this to me. Then he took out his phone, and he seemed to make a phone call. I am not sure whether he was really talking to anyone or not. Then he continued to touch me.

He hurriedly shoved anything that was on the floor of the front area of the van and motioned for me to lay down on my back. I refused. When he saw that I wasn’t going to cooperate, he went to the back of the van. He pushed my things off the seat in the cage inside the van and gestured for me to get back in. I complied. He followed me into the van. I told him I would report him if he continued to touch me and he pushed me into the van. I was crying and I thought it was the end of my life. I thought he was going to kill me. I thought I should have stayed in my home country if my life was going to end like this because at least I would have had more time with my children. He got in the cage with me and started unzipping his pants and pulling off my clothes. He exposed himself to me. He was angry that I would not take off my clothes. I kept yelling, saying that if he didn’t stop I would tell someone.

He finally stopped, got back in the front of the van, and drove fast to the airport. When we got to the airport he opened the door and the cage. I jumped out and I started running. I ran into the airport and I was still crying. A man who worked at the airport asked me why, and I said I was really scared because the man who brought me to the airport just tried touching me all over my body. The man called some other men and they came to talk to me. I was still crying. One guy spoke Spanish and he translated for the other guys. He told me what happened to me was wrong, asked for my information, and said that someone would call me. Then they let me go through security and I got on my flight and left.

A few weeks later I got a call from ICE. They wanted to clarify everything and they asked if I would come back to Texas and identify the man who attacked me face to face. I said I was too scared to see this man. They asked me if it was better if they came to me and I said yes. Some officials came to where I was staying and showed me some pictures, and I pointed to the one who attacked me. They told me they were going to fire him so he couldn’t hurt anyone else. They asked me what I wanted and I told them that is what I wanted – for him not to hurt anyone else.

The officials gave me a list of free immigration lawyers and I called them all but no one called me back. I left messages saying I was desperate and I didn’t know what to do.

The officials also gave me some information about sexual assault. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what happened to me. I left one problem in my home country and encountered another one here. I felt afraid of every one on the street, men and women, especially if they came near me or touched me. I was very afraid that the man who hurt me had bad friends and they were going to find me and hurt me. I cried at night and had a hard time falling asleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw him. I also felt dirty all the time, because his hands had been on my body, and I took two showers every day.

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