PHILADELPHIA — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit filed by an asylum seeker who was sexually assaulted when she was 19 years old by an employee of the Berks County Residential Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement family detention facility.

She subsequently filed the suit, E.D. v. Sharkey, against the detention center and its staff for their failure to protect her from sexual violence even though they were aware of the risk. Although the employee pled guilty to criminal institutional sexual assault under Pennsylvania law, the defendants argue that they should not be liable for any constitutional violations because the sexual abuse was “consensual.” The case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“It is shameful for Berks County to try to avoid responsibility for sexual violence within its detention center. As numerous federal and state laws recognize, any sexual activity between detainees and staff is unlawful because of the inherent power imbalance in custodial settings,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “Sexual violence is a serious and pervasive issue in immigration detention, one that can only be addressed once detention facilities are held accountable for responding to and preventing it.”

Victoria Lopez, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said “Immigrants not only face the loss of liberty while they are detained but are also forced to endure abusive conditions and in some cases, sexual abuse. Rather than address these endemic problems in ICE detention, this administration continues to aggressively target immigrants and asylum seekers by stripping away legal protections, ramping up enforcement, and expanding immigration detention. This case in particular shows that there is a need for more robust oversight and accountability measures in immigration detention, not less.”      

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed by the ACLU, ACLU of Pennsylvania, Women’s Law Project, Futures Without Violence, Tahirih Justice Center, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Just Detention International, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

The amicus brief can be found online here:

Stay Informed