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CIVIC - Sexual Assault Complaint, 2017

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Thomas D. Homan, Director
Claire Trickler-McNulty, Assistant Director, Office of Detention Policy and Planning
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20536
John F. Kelly, Secretary
John Roth, Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, D.C. 20528
Veronica Venture
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Building 410, Mail Stop #0190
Washington, D.C. 20528
April 11, 2017
Re: Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Harassment in U.S. Immigration Detention Facilities
Dear Director Homan, Assistant Director Trickler-McNulty, Secretary Kelly, Inspector General Roth, and
Officer Venture:
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) submits this complaint detailing: the
prevalence of reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in U.S. immigration detention facilities;
the lack of adequate government investigation into these reports; and the government’s refusal to
disclose relevant records.
CIVIC provides direct support to and advocates for people in immigration detention across the country. In
the last three years, CIVIC has documented 27 sexual abuse-related complaints in immigration detention.
Most of these individuals have not been in a position to file formal grievances or complaints because of
fear of retaliation. This letter summarizes complaints lodged directly with CIVIC, including eight
representative class complainants. Most of the complainants have agreed to be referred to by name, but
a few have reserved their right to be referred to by a pseudonym:
1. Maria Ortiz Cortez
2. Damion “Latoya” Ricketts
3. Douglas Menjivar Pineda
4. Rosanna Santos
5. Yordy Cancino
6. A.M.
7. C.O.
8. B.N.
An additional 1,016 people, at least, under the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in
detention have submitted sexual abuse-related complaints to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at
DHS since 2010. Although sexual assault has been documented at 76 immigration detention facilities,
according to data received from ICE, the top five facilities with the most sexual assault complaints are all
privately-run immigration detention facilities:
1. Jena/Lasalle Detention Facility (Louisiana - GEO Group)
1
2. Houston Contract Detention Facility (Texas - CCA/CoreCivic )

1

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) rebranded itself as CoreCivic in October 2015. Despite CCA's
unfortunate and confusing use of the name “CoreCivic,” CIVIC, the nonprofit representing the complainants in this

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3. Adelanto Correctional Facility (California - GEO Group)
4. Northwest Detention Center (Washington - GEO Group)
5. San Diego Contract Detention Facility (California - CCA/CoreCivic)
In addition to the four recommendations at the end of this complaint, we urge the DHS Office for Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), pursuant to its authority under 6 U.S.C. § 345, to immediately
investigate this multi-individual complaint of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in U.S. immigration
detention facilities and to promptly develop protocols to ensure that all such reports of sexual abuse are
thoroughly investigated and that relevant records are disclosed to the public.
I.

Overview of the Complaint

Civil and human rights organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, have raised concerns
over sexual abuse in U.S. immigration detention facilities for years:
●

●
●
●
●

In 2009, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission issued a report finding that “a large
2
and growing number of detained immigrants are at risk of sexual abuse.” Factors cited for the
“heightened vulnerability” of people in immigration detention included social isolation, language
barriers, and reluctance to report abuse due to fears of retaliation and/or deportation.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting more than 15 separate incidents
3
and allegations of sexual abuse and harassment involving more than 50 alleged victims.
In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union obtained and published data containing nearly 200
4
allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention since January 1, 2007.
In 2014, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund submitted a complaint
regarding numerous allegations of substantial, ongoing sexual abuse of women detained in the
5
Karnes Center in Texas.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report about sexual assaults faced by many
6
transgender women in immigration detention facilities.

Despite repeated calls from advocates for the U.S. government to prevent sexual abuse in immigration
detention and ensure justice for survivors, sexual abuse remains a systemic problem. Data obtained by
CIVIC suggests that the number of allegations have increased since 2010.
This complaint is structured in the following manner:
• Section II provides an overview of data CIVIC received from the Office of the Inspector General
(OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concerning sexual assault or physical
abuse complaints and investigations against DHS component agencies.
• Section III analyzes data CIVIC received from the DHS’s OIG concerning sexual assault or
physical abuse complaints and investigations from people in immigration detention.
• Section IV analyzes data regarding calls made to the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and
Information Line (DRIL).
letter, has no connection or relationship with CCA/CoreCivic aside from CIVIC's monitoring and advocacy work on
behalf of immigrants held in CCA/CoreCivic facilities.
2
National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC). “National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report.”
2009. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.pdf.
3
Human Rights Watch. “Detained and at Risk: Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States Immigration
Detention.” August 2010. “https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/08/25/detained-and-risk/sexual-abuse-and-harassmentunited-states-immigration-detention.
4
American Civil Liberties Union. “ACLU of Texas Today Files Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Women Assaulted at T.
Don Hutto Detention Center.” October 2011. https://www.aclu.org/news/documents-obtained-aclu-show-sexualabuse-immigration-detainees-widespread-national-problem.
5
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “RE: Complaints Regarding Sexual Abuse of Women in
DHS Custody at Karnes County Residential Center.” September 2014. https://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/2014-0930_Karnes_PREA_Letter_Complaint.pdf.
6
Human Rights Watch. “‘Do You See How Much I’m Suffering Here?’ Abuse against Transgender Women in US
Immigration Detention.” March 2016. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/us0316_web.pdf.

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•

•
•

•

Section V details information about the 27 complaints CIVIC has received directly from people in
immigration detention about sexual assault, providing more detailed information about the eight
class complainants.
Section VI explains how sexual abuse in immigration detention is clouded in secrecy and the
difficulty CIVIC had in obtaining data from all levels of government regarding sexual abuse and
assault in immigration detention.
Section VII provides legal analysis about why people in immigration detention who have
experienced sexual assault and abuse are protected by the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and
immigration detention standards.
Section VIII provides four recommendations for immediately addressing the urgent concerns
raised in this complaint.

II.
The Department of Homeland Security has established a pattern and practice of sexual
assault and/or physical abuse with a total of 33,126 complaints against DHS component agencies
between January 2010 and July 2016.
On May 27, 2016, CIVIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) for specific sexual assault
data from 2010 to the present from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS Office for
Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL), and the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG was
the only department that responded to the FOIA with the requested documents. The data the OIG
provided documents a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse against DHS
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component agencies between January 2010 and July 2016. DHS component agencies include ICE,
Citizenship & Immigration Services, Customs & Border Protection, Border Patrol, Transportation Security
Administration, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Protective Service, and
the Secret Service.
a. Overview of the OIG Data

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In the OIG data, some complaint case numbers are assigned to two or more complaints. It is unclear why there
might be a case number with multiple corresponding complaints; it could be due to the complaint being submitted
multiple times by the same individual, the complaint being submitted by multiple individuals, or because the complaint
pertains to one incident involving multiple people. OIG should clarify this.

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Of the 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse, the OIG opened investigations into only 247 of
them, or 0.07%. This was determined by calculating the number of investigations that had matching
complaint case numbers. OIG did undertake 570 total investigations of sexual and/or physical abuse
incidents, but only 247 arose out of a complaint.
More complaints were submitted against ICE than any other DHS component agency. Of the total
number of complaints, 44.4% (or 14,693 complaints) were lodged against ICE. The agency that is the
subject of the second-most complaints is Customs & Border Protection (CBP), the subject of 10,295
complaints (31.1% of the total).
ICE is the agency that oversees the 211 adult and family immigration detention facilities. CBP also holds
people in immigration detention at ports of entry. According to an American Immigration Council (AIC)
report published in August 2016, hundreds of thousands of people are detained in CBP facilities each
year. These facilities are not intended to be used for overnight custody, but routinely are. These facilities
have been widely decried for a lack of beds, extremely cold temperatures, overcrowding, and inadequate
food, water, and medical care. Despite these deplorable conditions, the AIC report revealed that
individuals are frequently held for days and sometimes even months in CBP facilities. Between
September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015, 44,202 individuals were held in CBP facilities for 72 hours or
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more.
While ICE has created Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) as guidelines for its
immigration detention facilities, there are no public standards that govern the conditions and procedures
in CBP facilities. The absence of standards is especially troubling given recent reports of widespread
sexual abuse in CBP facilities:
●

●

●

In June 2014, a group of civil and human rights organizations filed a complaint on behalf of more
than 100 children who experienced abuse while in CBP custody. Approximately one in four of the
children had reported some form of physical abuse or sexual assault, and more than half of these
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children reported verbal abuse, such as sexually-charged comments.
In May 2015, a CBS News investigation found sexual misconduct in the ranks of CBP to be
significantly higher than other federal law enforcement agencies. Their investigation included the
testimony of James Tomsheck, who handled sexual misconduct investigations as the Chief of
Internal Affairs at CBP for eight years. Between 2012 and 2014, he noticed a spike of more than
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35 sexual misconduct cases against agents.
In March 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California filed two claims
with the federal government on behalf of two sisters from Guatemala who were sexually
assaulted by a CBP officer in July 2016. The sisters, then 19 and 17 years old, encountered CBP
officers after crossing the border. They asked for help and were taken to a CBP field office.
Once there, the sisters were led by a federal officer into a closet-like room one at a time, told to
remove all their clothes, and sexually assaulted. The sisters reported the abuse shortly after it
occurred to another CBP officer in the field office where they were held, and an investigation was
launched by the DHS OIG. Federal authorities have not pursued criminal charges against the

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American Immigration Council. “Detained Beyond the Limit: Prolonged Confinement by U.S. Customs and Border
Protection along the Southwest Border.” August 2016.
https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/prolonged-detention-us-customs-border-protection.
9
National Immigrant Justice Center, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Florence
Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and the ACLU Border Litigation Project. “Re: Systemic Abuse of
Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” June 2014.
https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/documents/DHS%20Complaint%20re%20CBP%20Abuse%20of%20UICs.p
df.
10
Anna Werner and Laura Strickler. CBS News. “‘Disturbing’ sex abuse within agency that patrols U.S. border, says
former top official.” May 2015.
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-border-patrol-has-a-sex-abuse-problem-says-whistleblower.

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officer, nor is it clear whether the officer has faced any disciplinary actions for his assaults on the
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sisters.
b. Concerns About OIG’s Data Collection
It is unfortunate that the data provided by the OIG suffers from inconsistent categories and large gaps in
crucial information, making it difficult to analyze.
● The categories that the OIG uses to classify complaints have changed over time. For example,
the category “Detainee reported sexual abuse or assault” was not used prior to May 28, 2014.
● Other complaint categories, such as “physical or sexual abuse” are broad and vague, making it
impossible to determine how many complaints within them are related to sexual violence.
● None of the sexual abuse complaints were lodged by people that DHS categorized as
transgender. This is surprising as CIVIC has documented several sexual assault complaints
lodged by transgender individuals, in particular complaints involving unlawful and degrading strip
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searches. HRW also documented several cases of sexual assault against transgender
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immigrants in detention between 2011 and 2015.
● The data on OIG investigations contains thousands of duplicates. The data set contains a total of
4,793 cases, but 4,223 of those cases were in fact duplicate investigations, as determined by
duplicate investigation case numbers. It is unclear whether the inclusion of thousands of
duplicates was an active attempt to inflate investigation numbers or simply the result of data entry
glitches or an ineffective database system.
Despite the data’s flaws, the information that can be gleaned is illustrative and disturbing.
III.
As the agency within DHS that receives the most sexual abuse complaints, ICE has failed
to enforce federal laws to protect public safety. OIG received between 1,016 and 2,573 sexual
abuse complaints from people in DHS detention. The OIG also failed to investigate more than 97
percent of these complaints.

11

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. “ACLU of Northern California Files Claims Against
Customs And Border Protection for Sexual Assault.” March 2017. https://www.aclunc.org/news/aclu-northerncalifornia-files-claims-against-customs-and-border-protection-sexual-assault
12
CIVIC. “Federal Civil Rights Complaint Documents Santa Ana City Jail’s Illegal Strip Searches of Women.” January
2015. http://www.endisolation.org/SantaAna.
13
Human Rights Watch. “‘Do You See How Much I’m Suffering Here?’”

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The OIG received at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse or assault filed by people in detention between
May 28, 2014 and July 12, 2016. This means that the OIG received on average more than one complaint
of sexual abuse or assault from people in detention per day during this time period. There is no definite
number of reports of sexual abuse or assault filed by people in detention before May 28, 2014, because
the OIG did not use the category “Detainee reported sexual abuse/assault” to categorize complaints
before that date. However, there was an additional 1,557 complaints lodged against ICE and CBP that
were categorized by OIG as “coerced sexual contact,” “sexual harassment,” and “physical or sexual
abuse.” Therefore, it is plausible that there were a total of 2,573 sexual abuse or assault complaints from
people in detention between January 2010 and July 2016.
Of the complaints lodged by people in detention after May 2014, 80.8% of complainants were male and
19.2% were female. The OIG field office that received the most complaints was Tucson (120), followed
by Houston (89), Miami (88), and Atlanta (71).
OIG investigated only 24 of those complaints, or 2.4% of the total. For 92.6% of the complaints, OIG
declined to investigate and merely referred the complaint to the relevant agency (e.g., ICE) without
requesting any follow-up. 3.5% of the cases were closed without even a referral to the relevant agency.
Of the 24 OIG investigations into sexual abuse or assault reported by people in detention, only two were
determined to be substantiated and five remained under investigation. The low rate of complaints
deemed “substantiated” is perhaps unsurprising, given the fact that the complainants often do not have
physical evidence to substantiate their assaults, witnesses can be transferred or deported, and
investigations often occur a significant length of time after the incident occurred, when traditional
evidence such as testimony from witnesses and rape kit exams have become unavailable.
a. Coerced Sexual Contact
In addition to the 1,016 complaints of sexual abuse/assault reported by people in detention after May
2014, there were 702 complaints of “coerced sexual contact” submitted to OIG between January 2010
and July 2016.
Exactly 402 of these complaints of coerced sexual contact were lodged against ICE. Of these, the OIG
declined to investigate 90.8% of the complaints, instead referring them to ICE without any response
requested. The OIG closed 5.5% of the cases without taking any action at all. The OIG only opened 11
investigations (2.7% of the complaints), and eventually referred all but one to the affected agency without
requesting any reply. Of the 11 investigated allegations, three were determined to be substantiated and
three remained under investigation.
Exactly 84 of these complaints of coerced sexual contact were lodged against CBP. Of these, the OIG
only opened 7 investigations, or 8.3%. Four of these were ultimately referred to the relevant agency
without requesting follow-up. They closed one of the investigations without any referral, and for two, the
final action taken by the OIG is not entered.
b. Sexual Harassment
Of the 589 complaints of “sexual harassment” submitted to OIG, 196 were lodged against ICE and 211
were lodged against CBP. The OIG did not open any investigations into complaints of sexual harassment
lodged against ICE or CBP. Of the complaints lodged against ICE, 92.3% were referred to the relevant
agency without any follow-up requested and 7.1% were closed without any referrals. Of the complaints
lodged against CBP, all but one were referred to the relevant agency without any follow-up requested.
c. Physical or Sexual Abuse
Of the 714 complaints of “physical or sexual abuse” submitted to OIG, 380 were lodged against ICE and

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an additional 284 complaints were lodged against CBP. ICE and CBP only investigated 5 and 3 of these
complaints, respectively.
IV.
The top five immigration detention facilities with the most sexual and physical assault
complaints are all privately-run facilities.
CIVIC analyzed data regarding calls made to the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line
(DRIL) between October 1, 2012 and March 14, 2016. The data was received by Human Rights Watch
(HRW) in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act and shared with CIVIC.
According to this data, the highest number of DRIL calls related to sexual and/or physical abuse incidents
came from the following detention facilities, with the most coming from the Jena/LaSalle Detention
Facility:
Detention Facility

State

Operator

1. Jena/LaSalle Detention
Facility

LA

GEO Group

2. Houston Contract Detention
Facility

TX

CCA

3. Adelanto Correctional
Facility

CA

GEO Group

4. Northwest Detention Center

WA

GEO Group

5. San Diego Contract
Detention Facility

CA

CCA

6. Etowah County Jail

AL

County

7. Baker County Detention
Center

FL

County

8. Krome North Service
Processing Center

FL

ICE

9. Glades County Detention
Center

FL

County

NY

County

10. Batavia Processing Center

Number of Calls

30
23
22
19
15
14
12
12
10

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Rate of Calls per
Average
Population
1 call per 34 people
1 call per 38 people
1 call per 56 people
1 call per 69 people
1 call per 43 people
1 call per 20 people
1 call per 16 people
1 call per 43 people
1 call per 18 people
1 call per 51 people

ICE’s DRIL received only a total of 380 calls related to sexual and/or physical abuse incidents within this
time frame, which is surprising given the high volume of sexual and/or physical abuse complaints made to
the OIG. Therefore, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from this data. However, of the facilities where
calls reporting sexual and/or physical abuse were made, there was on average one call made per 67
people. Of the above 10 detention facilities, all of them had call rates higher than average except for
Northwest Detention Center, which had an average rate of one call per 69 people.

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Map developed by CIVIC with ICE’s DRIL data. For interactive data analytics, visit:
www.endisolation.org/sexual-assault.

CIVIC also analyzed data on grievances related to sexual and/or physical abuse. HRW received a total
of 19 summarized complaints relating to sexual and/or physical abuse filed between 2011 and 2015.
CIVIC analyzed these complaints, and nine of them appear to be duplicates. The following are the 10
unique complaints and the actions ICE took in response:
●
●
●

●
●
●
●
●

A medical exam of a young girl under 18 showed indications of a sexually transmitted disease
and vaginal scarring. Despite physical evidence, ICE declared the allegation of sexual abuse
unfounded. (Karnes County Residential Center, Karnes City, TX)
A detained individual alleged sexual assault, inadequate medical attention, dirty clothing, and
mistreatment by guards. ICE determined the allegations unfounded. (South Texas Detention
Complex, Pearsall, TX)
A detained individual complained about being touched inappropriately and offered marijuana by a
contracted facility officer in the medical unit. The contractor, Emerald Companies, substantiated
the complaint. The FOIA data did not state whether the contracted facility officer was
reprimanded or fired. (Rolling Plains Detention Center, Haskell, TX)
A detained individual complained about being sexually assaulted by an Immigration Health
Service Corps Physician Assistant during a medical examination. The complaint was simply
closed. (Northwest Detention Facility, Tacoma, WA)
A detained individual alleged that guards frisk and fondle people in a sexual manner, and
reported an improper relationship between a guard and a detained individual. The complaint was
“not referred to management.” (Jack Harwell Detention Center, Waco, TX)
A detained individual contemplated suicide due to inadequate medical treatment and lack of
grievance resolution after reporting an incident of sexual abuse. The allegations were declared
unfounded. (Monmouth County Jail, Freehold, NJ)
A detained individual complained about not receiving medical attention for sexual assault. The
complaint was closed with manager notification only. (Adelanto Correctional Facility, Adelanto,
CA)
A detained individual alleged sexual misconduct by another detained individual in medical
isolation for high risk for violent behavior. The complaint was closed with manager notification
only. (Santa Ana City Jail, Santa Ana, CA)

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●
●

A detained individual alleged sexual harassment by an ICE employee. The complaint was
closed. (Krome North Service Processing Center, Miami, FL)
A detained individual alleged being subjected to sexually graphic pictures. ICE declared the
allegation unsubstantiated. (Essex County Jail, Newark, NJ)

V.
Within this context, CIVIC submits the complaints on behalf of eight people who are in
immigration detention or have been released from detention who have experienced or witnessed
sexual abuse.
Between 2013 and 2016, CIVIC documented 27 sexual abuse-related complaints in immigration detention
occurring at the Aurora Processing Center (Colorado), Northwest Detention Center (Washington), Karnes
County Residential Center (Texas), the T. Don Hutto Residential Center (TX), Joe Corley Detention
Facility (Texas), the Broward Transitional Center (Florida), the Krome Service Processing Center
(Florida), the Eloy Detention Center (Arizona), Theo Lacy Facility (California), Santa Ana City Jail
(California), Adelanto Detention Facility (California) Otay Detention Facility (California), Yuba County Jail
(California), York County Jail (Pennsylvania), Stewart Detention Center (Georgia). These complaints
included a rape of a woman in immigration detention by a detention facility official, sexual comments
lodged against male and female immigrants in detention, and inappropriate touching of genitalia in
spaces in the facility that were not covered by cameras. Most of the 27 individuals did not want to file
formal grievances because of fear of retaliation, including the woman raped by a detention facility official.
a. A.M., Adelanto Detention Facility (California, GEO Group)
A.M. was sexually assaulted while detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility, one of the largest
privately-run immigration detention facilities in the country, in December 2015. According to an interview
CIVIC conducted with A.M., another person in immigration detention sexually assaulted A.M. at night and
tried to kiss her during the daytime in view of the GEO Group officers. A.M. reported the behavior to GEO
Group and ICE personnel, but received no response, so she called 911 from the facility. The San
Bernardino Sheriff’s Department conducted an interview with A.M. on December 15, 2015. A.M.
eventually became so depressed as a result of the abuse that she attempted to commit suicide. ICE
subsequently transferred A.M. to the Santa Ana City Jail in March 2016. Neither ICE, GEO Group, nor
the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department ever followed up with A.M.
According to data received in response to CIVIC’s California Public Record Act request, the San
Bernardino Sheriff's Department responded to 408 emergency calls from the Adelanto Detention Facility
between January 2010 to June 2016. At least five of these calls concerned an alleged rape or sexual
battery.
In addition, there were 17 other incidents of assault. Two of these incidents resulted in recorded injuries.
Similar to the OIG data, the list of incident reports to the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department do not
appear to be properly or thoroughly categorized. For example, a report received on December 15, 2015,
and labeled as an assault may have in fact been A.M.’s sexual assault.
b. Yordy Cancino, Otay Detention Facility (California, CCA/CoreCivic)
Yordy Cancino, an individual who was detained at the Otay Detention Facility (also known as the San
Diego Contract Detention Facility) in 2014, experienced consistent sexual harassment by Corrections
Corporation of America (CCA) guards. When Mr. Cancino took showers, one of the male guards would
position himself so that he could see Mr. Cancino naked. Guards would call him over the detention
facility radio, “Cancino, my royal princess, wake up.” Mr. Cancino once witnessed a female guard kissing
a man who was in immigration detention in the receiving and departure (R&D) room, where there are no
cameras. This guard threatened Mr. Cancino that she would ensure that ICE deported him if he told
anyone about it. Mr. Cancino complained to both CCA and ICE, but to no effect: “That made me feel so
uncomfortable. Why don’t they do nothing to these guards? When we complain about it, no one actually
did anything about it.”

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c. Damion “Latoya” Ricketts, Santa Ana City Jail (California, City Jail IGSA)
On July 12, 2016, Damion “Latoya” Ricketts, a transgender woman, was sexually harassed by a male
corrections officer at the Santa Ana City Jail. She was taken into the men’s changing room by the
corrections officer after being visited by her immigration attorney. The officer instructed that Ms. Ricketts
take off each article of clothing “slowly” and hand it to him and to run her fingers through her hair. The
officer ordered Mr. Ricketts to take off her underwear “in a lustful way.” The officer then ordered Mr.
Ricketts to turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands, and cough. He ordered her to do
this at least three times in a row. Ms. Ricketts observed the officer’s arousal and felt violated. Ms.
Ricketts filed a complaint regarding this incident with the U.S. District Court on July 25, 2016. This
incident occurred six months after CIVIC put ICE, CRCL, and OIG on notice about the unlawful and
degrading strip searches occurring at the Santa Ana City Jail, as detained in our January 2016 complaint
on behalf of 31 cisgender and transgender immigrants.
d. Maria Ortiz Cortez, Yuba County Jail (California, County Jail IGSA)
For several months in 2016, Maria Ortiz Cortez, a woman in immigration detention at the Yuba County
Jail, was sexually abused, harassed, and threatened by another woman that Ms. Ortiz believed to be
mentally unstable. Ms. Ortiz filed a report. She was subsequently transferred to West County Detention
Facility, a transfer that she presumes to be a result of her complaint. At the West County Detention
Facility, she requested to see a psychologist to help her address strong feelings of depression and
anxiety, which were also taking a physical toll on her health, causing rapid weight gain. However, she
has been consistently denied adequate mental health treatment.
e. Douglas Menjivar Pineda, Joe Corley Detention Facility (Texas, GEO Group)
In September 2013, Douglas Menjivar Pineda, an individual in immigration detention at the Joe Corley
Detention Facility, was raped by a man in the presence of four others. Another man in his bunk was also
raped. The perpetrators told Mr. Menjivar that if he reported them, they would kill him and his family in El
Salvador. Despite his fears, Mr. Menjivar immediately reported the rapes to a supervising facility official.
The facility official responded that Mr. Menjivar was the most “stupid” person in detention at the facility
because he “let” this happen to him. The facility official did not document the report or attempt to secure
medical or psychological care for Mr. Menjivar. Mr. Menjivar was transferred to the IAH Secure Adult
Detention Facility in May 2014. Mr. Menjivar reported the rape to Dr. Pablo Splenser at the IAH Detention
Facility in November 2014. Mr. Menjivar was interviewed on January 7, 2015 and Feb 20, 2015 by DHS
officials regarding the rape. On neither occasion was Mr. Menjivar allowed the support or assistance of
his attorney, who was not permitted to attend and was not provided with transcripts of either interview.
Within hours of the brief interview on February 20, 2015, Mr. Menjivar received a notice from ICE that
stated that “the facts and evidence did not support that the incident occurred” and “the investigation is
closed”.
f.

Rosanna Santos, York County Jail (Pennsylvania, County Jail, IGSA)

On March 28, 2013, Rosanna Santos, an individual in immigration detention at the York County Prison,
was sexually harassed by a corrections officer, C.O. Officer Skaggs was escorting Rosanna and another
detained woman to a waiting area prior to an immigration hearing when he told them that they were under
his control and that if they did not do whatever he said quickly and without question that they would be
subjected to a physical sexual assault (the officer’s exact words were, “ass-fucking”). She was then
placed in an attorney-client meeting room without cameras, completely under control of this officer. Ms.
Santos immediately informed her lawyer, who filed complaints with the Warden of York County Prison
and DHS. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Santos was inexplicably placed into solitary confinement for 11 days.
She believes this to have been retaliation. On May 31, 2013, she was interviewed by Dana Day, a
Detention & Deportation Officer of the DHS/ICE/ERO Administrative Inquiry Unit, with no results. Officer
Skaggs continued to work on the women’s side of the prison. As a survivor of domestic violence, this
incident and the aftermath caused Ms. Santos to suffer intense anxiety, depression, and nightmares. She
requested psychological counseling from the facility but did not receive any.

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g. C.O., Stewart Detention Center (Georgia, CCA/CoreCivic)
In June 2016, a CCA guard strip searched C.O. in a bathroom, making him undress fully, and then
touched his genitals. He filed a complaint, resulting in questioning by guards including questions about
his sexual orientation that frustrated him. C.O. felt that he couldn’forget the incident. He felt violated and
became depressed.
h. B.N., Stewart Detention Center (Georgia, CCA/CoreCivic)
In December 2016, a female CCA guard sexually harassed B.N., expressing her desire for a sexual
relationship with him.
VI.
Sexual abuse in immigration detention is clouded in secrecy. People in immigration
detention are afraid to file grievances for fear of retaliation, complaints are promptly closed or not
investigated, and government data on sexual abuse is routinely withheld from NGOs.
On May 27, 2016, CIVIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for specific sexual assault data from
2010 to the present for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS Office for Civil Rights &
Civil Liberties (CRCL), and the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). As explained above, the OIG
was the only department that responded to the FOIA with the requested documents in a prompt manner.
The CRCL was unresponsive.
On June 30, 2016, we received a response from ICE that stated, “The timeframe of 2010 to present is not
in line with our record keeping of allegations of sexual abuse and assault. OPR started cataloging these
allegations in 2012 based on an agency Directive requirement… So anything prior to 2012 will be difficult
to identify. Anything outside of this, including email correspondence would be terribly burdensome.”
CIVIC responded that we could limit our request to the time frame of 2012 to the present and that email
correspondence could be excluded. However, since June 30, 2016, we have not yet received any
responsive documents from ICE, despite multiple attempts to obtain this information.
At the local level, we filed state open record requests to determine the number of times that local police
had been called to immigration detention facilities and the reasons for the calls to determine whether
people in detention were making 911 calls to report sexual abuse or assault. We filed these open record
requests with the following municipalities: the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas for the Houston
Contract Detention Facility; the Jena Police Department in Louisiana for the LaSalle Detention Facility;
the LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Office for the LaSalle Detention Facility; the San Diego Sheriff’s Department
in California for the Otay Detention Facility; the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department in California for the
Adelanto Detention Facility; the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Washington for the Northwest
Detention Facility; and the Tacoma Police Department for the Northwest Detention Facility.
Only the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department was responsive to our California Public Record Act
request. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department told us to contact the Tacoma Police Department,
which in turn told us that there was only one responsive document and directed us to file the request with
South Sound 911. We filed the request with South Sound 911, but received no response. All of the other
localities violated their state open record laws by not responding to our requests, despite multiple followup attempts.
VII.
People in immigration detention who have experienced sexual assault and abuse are
protected by the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and immigration detention standards.
On August 21, 1989, Dee Farmer, a black, transgender woman, sued prison officials for the rape she
endured in her prison cell of a maximum security federal prison. On June 6, 1994, the Supreme Court
unanimously ruled in Farmer v. Brennan that Dee Farmer's case against the prison could move forward
and she could seek damages from the officials responsible for placing her somewhere where she could
be assaulted. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act because of the
epidemic of sexual violence in prison. In 2014, DHS disseminated regulations, “Standards to Prevent,

11

Detect, and Respond to Sexual Abuse and Assault in Confinement Facility,” 79 Fed. Reg. 13,100 (Mar. 7,
2014), implementing PREA in immigration detention facilities.
a. The U.S. Constitution protects people in immigration detention from cruel and unusual
punishment, and 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 provides a civil cause of action against any person
who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of constitutional rights.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and requires prison officials to "take
reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates in their custody." Hayes v. N.Y. City Dep't of
Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996); see also Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994).
Specifically, "[p]rison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other inmates
since being violently assaulted in prison is 'simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for
their offenses against society.'" Lee v. Artuz, No. 96-CV-8604, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2022, 2000 WL
231083, at 4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 29, 2000) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). However, "not . . . every injury
suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another . . . translates into constitutional liability for prison
officials responsible for the victim's safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Instead, "the prisoner must allege
actions or omissions sufficient to demonstrate deliberate indifference; mere negligence will not suffice."
Hayes, 84 F.3d at 620.
To satisfy the deliberate indifference standard, a plaintiff must show that (1) "[s]he is incarcerated under
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm," and (2) "the defendant prison officials possessed
sufficient culpable intent." Hayes, 84 F.3d at 620 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). See also Price, 2014
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116019, 2014 WL 4146276, at 8 (explaining that to establish deliberate indifference, "a
plaintiff must prove that the defendant official actually knew of and disregarded an excessive risk of harm
to the plaintiff's safety"). A corrections officer's intentional contact with an inmate's genitalia or other
intimate area, which serves no penological purpose and is undertaken with the intent to gratify the
officer's sexual desire or to humiliate the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment. Crawford v. Cuomo,
796 F.3d 252, (2d Cir. N.Y. 2015).
All of the complainants in this letter could prove that ICE and/or the detention facility officials actually
knew of and disregarded an excessive risk of harm to the complainants’ safety. The circumstances
involved either a sexual assault by a detention facility guard and/or multiple failed attempts by the
complainant to seek aid and protection from officers at the detention facility, ICE, or in the greater
community. Moreover, the circumstances surrounding the sexual assaults against Ms. Rickets, Mx.
Cancino, and Ms. Santos served no penological purpose and were undertaken with the intent to at
minimum humiliate them.
In addition, some courts have established further protections for people in immigration detention. For
example, the Ninth Circuit has held that the “Eighth Amendment provides too little protection for those
whom the state cannot punish.” Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 994 (9th Cir. 2007). Therefore, persons
detained under a civil process, such as people in immigration detention, are entitled to greater protection
than those detained under criminal process. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 931 (9th Cir. 2004). Even
the Supreme Court has held that conditions and restrictions of a detention facility may not amount to
punishment; punishment is reserved only for those who have been tried and convicted. Bell v. Wolfish,
441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979).
Like Ms. Farmer, the complainants here are bravely standing up against the sexual abuse they suffered in
confinement. We know there are many others who are suffering in silence and isolation. We hope this
complaint will help them to come forward.
b. ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards and the Prison Rape Elimination
Act, as adopted by DHS regulations, should offer protections to people in detention from
sexual assault and abuse, but they have not been thoroughly implemented or enforced.
Non-family immigration detention facilities that are permitted to hold people in immigration detention for
more than 72 hours are required by ICE to comply with one of three sets of detention standards,

12

depending on the contract: either the 2000 National Detention Standards (NDS 2000), the 2008
Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS 2008), or the 2011 Performance Based
National Detention Standards (PBNDS 2011). The NDS 2000 do not make any mention of sexual abuse
and assault prevention and intervention. The PBNDS 2008 and PBNDS 2011 contain standards titled
14
15
“Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention” (sections 2.14 and 2.11, respectively). In
2016, the PBNDS 2011 were revised, and ICE explicitly stated that the “most significant” revisions were
16
made to PBNDS 2011 Standard 2.11 “Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention.” Many
detention facilities are not required by ICE to comply with the PBNDS 2008 or 2011 and so are unaffected
by this latest revision.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into law in 2003 to address the problem of sexual
abuse of people in the custody of U.S. agencies. PREA established the National Prison Rape Elimination
Commission (NPREC), whose 2009 report found that “a large and growing number of detained
17
immigrants are at risk of sexual abuse” due to isolation, language barriers, and fear of retaliation.
However, in 2011 the Department of Justice (DOJ) determined that PREA did not cover immigration
18
detention facilities. In the wake of resulting criticism, the DOJ issued a final rule in 2012 stating that
19
PREA in fact does apply to DHS immigration detention facilities. In May 2012, ICE issued Directive
11062.1, titled “Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention” (subsequently superseded by ICE
20
21
Directive 11062.2 in May 2014 ) with the stated objective of being “consistent with the goals” of PREA.
It was not until March 2014 that the DHS finalized the “Standards To Prevent, Detect, and Respond to
Sexual Abuse and Assault in Confinement Facilities,” intended to enact PREA regulations at all detention
22
facilities. This rule states that DHS facilities and contract facilities that hold people in immigration
detention must comply with PREA when a detention facility contract is either signed, renewed, or
substantively modified. DHS does not have the legal power to coerce facilities into complying with PREA
standards without changing existing contracts and so can only encourage contracting facilities to
23
implement PREA standards. According to ICE, “all ICE detention facilities have contractually adopted
the DHS PREA standards,” and audits of the facilities’ compliance with PREA should have begun in fiscal
24
year 2017.
However, the effectiveness of PREA audits in curbing sexual assault is questionable, at best. According
to the results of our FOIA, OIG’s Office of Audits (OA) and Office of Inspections and Evaluations (OIE)
uncovered 0 sexual assault complaints between January 2010 and July 2016 during their regular audits
and inspections of immigration detention facilities. The fact that these audits uncovered 0 instances of
sexual assault calls into question their ability to monitor immigration detention conditions in any
substantive way. While it remains to be seen whether DHS’s PREA audits will be just as ineffective at
14

ICE. “ICE/ERO Detention Standard: Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention.” 2008.
https://www.ice.gov/doclib/dro/detention-standards/pdf/sexual_abuse_and_assault_prevention_and_intervention.pdf
15
ICE. “2011 Operations Manual ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards: 2.11, Sexual Abuse and
Assault Prevention and Intervention.” 2016. Page 127. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-standards/2011/2-11.pdf
16
ICE. “2011 Operations Manual ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards.”
17
National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC). “National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Executive
Summary.” 2009. http://static.nicic.gov/UserShared/2013-03-29_nprec_execsummary.pdf.
18
DOJ. “National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, Notice of Proposed Rule Making, 76
Fed. Reg. 6248 (February 23, 2011).” 2011.
19
DOJ. “National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, Final Rule, 77 Fed. Reg. 37105, (June
20, 2012).” 2012.
20
ICE. “Policy No. 11062.2. Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention.” 2014.
https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/saapi2.pdf.
21
ICE. “Policy No. 11062.1. Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention.” 2012.
https://www.ice.gov/doclib/foia/dro_policy_memos/sexual-abuse-assault-prevention-intervention-policy.pdf
22
DHS. “Standards To Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Sexual Abuse and Assault in Confinement Facilities.” 2014.
https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2014/03/07/2014-04675/standards-to-prevent-detect-and-respond-tosexual-abuse-and-assault-in-confinement-facilities
23
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “With Liberty and Justice for All: The State of Civil Rights at Immigration
Detention Facilities.” 2015. Page 75.
24
ICE. “2011 Operations Manual ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards.”

13

unearthing sexual assault as OIG’s regular audits have been up until now, the effectiveness of PREA
audits in the prison context is worrisome. For example, the Glades County Detention Center, which
according to ICE DRIL data receives 1 sexual/physical assault call per 18 people, received a passing final
25
PREA audit on March 15, 2016, from the Department of Justice. In fact, the audit found that the facility
met or exceeded all relevant PREA standards. The main problem with these audits is that they primarily
review the facilities’ policy compliance with PREA, rather than also investigating the facilities’ practices.
Given the continuing and widespread nature of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities, it is clear
that DHS’s immigration detention standard regulations and revisions over the years have not been
sufficient to ensure the safety and security of detained individuals.
VIII.

Recommendations & Conclusion

In light of the disturbing reports and numerous sexual abuse allegations detailed in this complaint, CIVIC
urges that the following steps be taken immediately:
●

Congress should 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. 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.

●

DHS should 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.
The DHS PREA standards call for a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse, mandatory PREA
training for all staff, and at least one outside audit for PREA compliance every three years.

●

DHS should establish a policy that requires victims of sexual abuse in immigration detention to be
informed about the possibility of their eligibility for a U visa. The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa for
victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist
law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal
activity. In addition, ICE and CBP should clarify the process for U visa applicants to request a U
Nonimmigrant Status Certification (USCIS Form 1-918, Supplement B) from ICE or CBP.

●

Given the refusals of ICE and CRCL to provide data about sexual abuse in immigration detention
in response to FOIA requests, Congress should mandate that DHS proactively and quarterly
publish information on all reported complaints of sexual abuse in DHS facilities, without
compromising confidentiality. This information should include actions taken and investigation
outcomes.

We look forward to your prompt attention to this issue. Should you have any questions, please contact
CIVIC’s Independent Monitor, Rebecca Merton, at RMerton@endisolation.org or CIVIC’s General
Counsel, Christina Fialho, at CFialho@endisolation.org.
Sincerely,

Rebecca Merton
National Independent Monitor, CIVIC
www.endisolation.org

Christina Fialho
Co-Founder/Executive Director, CIVIC
www.endisolation.org

CC: Nicole Boehner, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Congressional Representatives
25

http://www.gladessheriff.org/media/docs/PREA/2016%20PREA%20FINAL%20AUDIT.pdf

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