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United States

Detained and at Risk
Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States
Immigration Detention

H U M A N
R I G H T S
W A T C H

Detained and at Risk
Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States
Immigration Detention

Copyright © 2010 Human Rights Watch
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 1-56432-676-4
Cover design by Rafael Jimenez
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August 2010

1-56432-676-4

Detained and at Risk
Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States Immigration Detention
Summary ........................................................................................................................... 1
Methodology .................................................................................................................. 2
Background........................................................................................................................ 3
International and US Law and Standards ............................................................................ 5
Known Incidents and Allegations........................................................................................ 8
Texas .............................................................................................................................. 8
Florida ........................................................................................................................... 10
Washington State .......................................................................................................... 11
Arizona .......................................................................................................................... 12
New York ....................................................................................................................... 12
New Jersey ..................................................................................................................... 13
Wisconsin...................................................................................................................... 13
California....................................................................................................................... 13
Challenges in Policy, Implementation, and Oversight ........................................................15
An Inadequate Response to Sexual Abuse and Harassment........................................... 16
Unrestricted Searches ................................................................................................... 17
Transportation Policy Failures ........................................................................................ 17
Redress ......................................................................................................................... 18
Oversight and Accountability ......................................................................................... 19
Recommendations............................................................................................................ 21
To the Department of Homeland Security ....................................................................... 21
To Immigration and Customs Enforcement..................................................................... 21
To the Department of Justice ......................................................................................... 23
To the US Congress....................................................................................................... 23
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................ 24

Summary
In May 2010, reports surfaced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was
investigating allegations that a guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigration
detention center in Texas, had sexually assaulted several female detainees.1 The guard, who
was arrested on August 19, 2010 on suspicion of official oppression and unlawful restraint,
allegedly groped women while transporting them to an airport and a bus station where they
were being released. 2 While largely covered in the media as an isolated incident, this is only
the latest in a series of assaults, abuses, and episodes of harassment that have quietly
emerged as a pattern across the rapidly expanding national immigration detention system.
Due to a shortage of publicly available data and the closed nature of the detention system,
the extent to which ICE detainees are subject to sexual abuse nationwide is unclear, but the
known incidents and allegations are too serious and too numerous to ignore. They point to
an urgent need for investigation and for swift action to correct glaring gaps in detention
policy, practice, and oversight.
The allegations of abuse at Hutto are all the more disturbing because of where they occurred.
One year ago, in August 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to overhaul the
immigration detention system. Hutto was a model for the detention reform plan that
followed. Previously a family detention facility,3 Hutto was to become an all-female detention
center.4 It was to be an example of the enhanced oversight ICE planned, and the “softer”

1

Suzanne Gamboa, “ICE investigating alleged sexual assault of detainees,” Associated Press, May 28, 2010; Julian Aguilar, “A
Private-prison Employee Is Accused of Assault,” Texas Tribune, June 1, 2010; Seth Fred Wessler, “Sex Assault Charges Back in
ICE Detention Centers,”Colorlines, June 3, 2010,
http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/06/immigration_and_customs_enforcement_announced.html (accessed July 15, 2010).
2

Isadora Vail, “Former supervisor charged in sexual assaults of detainees,”Austin American-Statesman, August 20, 2010,
http://www.statesman.com/news/local/former-supervisor-charged-in-sexual-assaults-of-detainees-869333.html (accessed
August 20, 2010); “Detention officer admits groping women,” KXAN.com, August 19, 2010,
http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/local/williamson/detention-officer-admits-groping-women (accessed August 19, 2010);
3

From May 2006 to September 2009, the T. Don Hutto Residential Center was one of two facilities used by Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) as housing for families in the agency’s custody. During that time, Hutto was the subject of
litigation over detention conditions and the site of multiple protests by groups objecting to the detention families. When ICE
decided to cease using Hutto to hold families, ICE expedited processing of the cases there and families there were deported,
released into the US (permanently or pending the outcome of their immigration case), or transferred to the much smaller
Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania, now the only facility that ICE uses to hold families. For further background on
ICE family detention, see Women’s Refugee Commission, Locking up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families,
February 2007, http://womensrefugeecommission.org/component/docman/doc_download/150-locking-up-family-valuesthe-detention-of-immigrant-families-locking-up-family-values-the-detention-of-immigrant-families?q=locking+family+values
(accessed August 6, 2010).
4

ICE, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2009 Immigration Detention Reforms Factsheet, August 6, 2009,
http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/2009_immigration_detention_reforms.htm (accessed August 6, 2010).

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

form of detention that was to reflect the non-criminal nature of immigration custody.5 The
detention reform announcements also identified the agency’s response to sexual abuse as
an area for improvement. A report by detention expert Dora Schriro, which formed the basis
for the reforms, stated: “The system must make better use of sound practices such as …
practices that comply with the Prisoner Rape Elimination Act.”6
A year later, the alleged sexual assault of women at Hutto serves as a stark reminder of how
far detention reform has yet to progress. While ICE has made significant steps towards
reform—including drafting new detention standards with the input of immigrant and
detainee rights advocates—further steps, including publication of those standards and
improvements in oversight and accountability to see that they are implemented, are still
needed to ensure the safety and fair treatment of immigrants in detention.

Methodology
In researching this report, Human Rights Watch gathered reported incidents and allegations
of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in ICE detention from a range of sources, including
press reports, governmental and nongovernmental studies, a public hearing, court
documents, and Human Rights Watch interviews. The research focused solely on reports and
allegations of incidents since 2003, when ICE assumed control of immigration detention
functions from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Secondary accounts were
collected primarily through a search of news and legal databases and through consultations
with immigrants’ rights advocates. Information was also drawn from two interviews that
Human Rights Watch conducted in April and May 2008 with individual women detainees
about the medical care they received in detention and about their other detention-related
concerns. To protect their privacy and alleviate concerns regarding retaliation, Human Rights
Watch assured women that their real names and the potentially identifying details of their
interview would not appear in our report. For this reason, the names of all women
interviewed have been replaced with pseudonyms, and the exact dates and precise
locations of the interviews have been withheld. For all of the included incidents and
allegations, we have included the country of origin of the detainee or detainees whenever it
was publicly available.

5

ICE, DHS, T. Don Hutto Residential Center Factsheet, March 24, 2010,
http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/huttofactsheet.htm (accessed August 6, 2010).

6

Dora Schriro, ICE, DHS, “Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations,” October 6, 2009,
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/091005_ice_detention_report-final.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010), p. 22.

Detained and at Risk

2

Background
ICE oversees the fastest-growing incarceration system in the United States. In the 2009 fiscal
year, 383,524 people were detained for various lengths of time over the course of the year, a
64 percent increase over 2005.7 The detention system has an average daily population of
over 31,000, of whom women constitute 9 percent.8 Detained for alleged civil—not criminal—
violations of US immigration law, they include asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants,
legal permanent residents convicted of certain crimes, refugees who the US had accepted for
resettlement but who did not apply for permanent residency in time, and even US citizens
whose citizenship the government disputes. In addition, they may be victims of trafficking,9
survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.10
While in ICE custody, they are held in a detention system that includes service processing
centers operated directly by ICE, contract detention facilities managed by private companies,
bed space at state and county jails in agreements with ICE, and facilities run by the federal
Bureau of Prisons. While the average person is detained 30 days,11 for some, detention can
last years.
This report gathers more than 15 separate documented incidents and allegations of sexual
assault, abuse, or harassment from across the ICE detention system, involving more than 50
alleged detainee victims. This accumulation of reports indicates that the problem cannot be
dismissed as a series of isolated incidents, and that there are systemic failures at issue. At
the same time, the number of reported cases almost certainly does not come close to
capturing the extent of the problem. Victims of abuse in detention face a range of obstacles
and disincentives to reporting, from a lack of information about rules governing staff
conduct, to fear of speaking out against the same authority that is seeking their deportation,

7

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Syracuse University, “Detention of Criminal Aliens:
What Has Congress Bought?”, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/224/ (accessed July 15, 2010).
8

Dora Schriro, “Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations,” p. 6.

9

See Human Rights Watch, “US: Victims of Trafficking Held in ICE Detention,” Letter to the US Department of State on 2010
Trafficking in Persons Report, April 19, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/19/us-victims-trafficking-held-icedetention (accessed August 20, 2010).
10

In a November 2007 directive, then Assistant Secretary Julie Myers instructed ICE Field Offices to consider paroling all
nursing mothers who did not meet the criteria for mandatory detention and who did not present a national security risk.
Memorandum from Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary, ICE, to all field office directors and all special agents in charge, ICE,
November 7, 2007. Nonetheless, two nursing mothers who spoke with Human Rights Watch in April and May of 2008 had
entered detention since the directive despite being eligible for parole under its guidelines. Human Rights Watch, Detained and
Dismissed: Women’s Struggles to Obtain Health Care in United States Immigration Detention, March 17, 2009,
http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/03/16/detained-and-dismissed-0 (accessed July 15, 2010), pp. 55-56.
11

Ibid.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

to trauma from the abuse in detention and possibly from violence and other abuse they have
previously suffered in their countries of origin.12 Most immigration detainees do not have
legal representation, which may also inhibit their ability to report and seek redress for
abuses of their rights in detention.
To date, the government has not published statistics that comprehensively focus on the
problem of sexual abuse in immigration detention. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)
mandated the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to collect data on sexual abuse in custodial
settings for each calendar year, following the act’s passage in 2003. BJS has included 14
facilities run by or exclusively for ICE in its Survey on Sexual Violence in Correctional
Facilities, which collects reports of sexual violence from administrative records. The 2004
survey reported six allegations of sexual violence for the reporting year.13 The 2005 survey
reported an estimated two substantiated incidents of sexual violence nationally; the 2006
survey estimated a single substantiated incident.14 BJS also included 957 ICE detainees from
five facilities run by or exclusively for ICE in the second National Inmate Survey (NIS-2),
which collects information on these issues directly from individuals in custody. The results
of the NIS-2 are expected to be published in late August 2010.
However, because both these surveys focus on facilities run by or exclusively for ICE, they do
not shed light on the incidence of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment of immigration
detainees in the hundreds of jails and contract facilities in which ICE rents a portion of the
bed space. This is a notable omission, both because of the number of such facilities used by
ICE and because the rates of substantiated sexual violence are four to five times higher in
state prisons, local jails, and privately operated jails, than in federal prisons, according to
the 2006 BJS survey.15 The Department of Homeland Security, the agency in charge of
immigration detention, is not mandated under law to publish data on sexual violence, and
has not done so. In consultations regarding this report, an ICE official said that the agency
would consider publishing such information in the future.16

12

See National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report, June 2009, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.pdf
(accessed August 9, 2010) pp. 176-78.
13

Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, “Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2004,” July
2005, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/svrca04.pdf (accessed July 29, 2010), p.5.
14

Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, “Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2006,”
August 2007, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/svrca06.pdf (accessed July 29, 2010), p.4.
15

Ibid.

16

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, chief public engagement officer, Office of State and Local
Coordination, ICE, August 18, 2010.

Detained and at Risk

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International and US Law and Standards
International treaties ratified by the United States prohibit the mistreatment of individuals in
government custody. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
ratified by the US in 1992, “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with
humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”17 The Human
Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the ICCPR, has explained that
detained persons retain all of the rights in the covenant, subject only to “the restrictions that
are unavoidable in a closed environment.”18 This includes the right to freedom from torture
and ill-treatment. The Convention against Torture, which the US ratified in 1994, states that
governments are responsible for not only acts of torture committed by government officials,
but also those committed with their acquiescence.19 In reviewing US compliance with the
treaty, the Committee against Torture has expressed concern about “reliable reports of
sexual assault of sentenced detainees, as well as persons in pretrial or immigration
detention,” and recommended the government ensure that “allegations of violence in
detention centres are investigated promptly and independently, perpetrators are prosecuted
and appropriately sentenced and victims can seek redress, including appropriate
compensation.”20
In addition to addressing the general prohibition on rape and sexual assault of persons in
detention, international human rights authorities have specifically addressed the subject of
body searches in custody. The Human Rights Committee has determined that preserving
prisoners’ rights to privacy necessitates that body searches by government authorities or

17

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N.
GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, ratified by the United
States on June 8, 1992, art. 10(1).
18

UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), “Replaces general comment 9 concerning humane treatment of persons deprived of
liberty,” General Comment No. 21, U.N. Doc. A/47/40 (1992),
http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/3327552b9511fb98c12563ed004cbe59?Opendocument (accessed October 10,
2008), para. 3.

19

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture),
adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered
into force June 26, 1987, ratified by the United States on October 21, 1994, art. 1, 16(1).
20

CAT, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Conclusions and
Recommendations of the Committee against Torture, United States of America,” CAT/C/USA/CO/2, May 18, 2006,
http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/AdvanceVersions/CAT.C.U
SA.CO.2.pdf (accessed June 16, 2006), para. 32.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

medical personnel should only be conducted by persons of the same sex.21 Under the UN
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, women prisoners are to “be
attended and supervised only by women officers.”22
International law also affirms the right of prisoners to medical care that is at least
comparable to the care and services available to those who are at liberty, which includes
care after a rape. The principle of equivalence, articulated in the Basic Principles for the
Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990, holds that “Prisoners
shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on
the grounds of their legal situation.”23 Further, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination against Women,24 which the US has signed but not ratified, has been
interpreted by its monitoring committee to require governments to “establish or support
services for victims of family violence, rape, sex assault and other forms of gender-based
violence, including refuges, specially trained health workers, rehabilitation and
counseling.”25
Like international law, the US Constitution and federal law contain particular protections for
individuals in state custody. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,
which has been interpreted to include deliberate indifference by prison officials to the rape
and sexual assault of prisoners. 26 Immigration detainees, who are in administrative custody,
are protected from such treatment under the Fifth Amendment’s restrictions on the handling
of individuals in legal procedures.27 In addition, the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections
21

General Comment 16 to Article 17, "Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human
Rights Treaty Bodies," U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/Rev.1, July 29, 1994.
22

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Standard Minimum

Rules), adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the
Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of July 31, 1957, and 2076 (LXII) of May 13, 1977, Rule 53(3).
23

Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted December 14, 1990, G.A. Res. 45/111, annex, 45 U.N. GAOR Supp.
(No. 49A) at 200, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (1990), art. 9. See also UN Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health
Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 18, 1982, G.A. Res. 37/194, principle. 1.

24

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. res.
34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981.

25

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “Violence against Women,” General Recommendation
No. 19, UN Doc. A/47/38 (1992), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm#recom19
(accessed October 10, 2008), para. 24(k).

26

Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1984).

27

While the standard of treatment in the immigration detention context under the Fifth Amendment continue to be defined,
federal case law has largely established that it at least prohibits conduct that would violate the Eighth Amendment in the
prison context. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 931 -934 (9th Cir. 2004). See also Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 994 (9th Cir.
2007) (summarily reversed on other grounds in Hunter v. Hydrick, 129 S. Ct. 2431, 174 L. Ed. 2d 226 (2009)) (finding that “the

Detained and at Risk

6

are relevant to practices that may facilitate the sexual harassment of individuals in custody.
Federal courts have held that those privacy protections prohibit male guards from stripsearching female prisoners,28 conducting intrusive pat-frisks,29 or engaging in inappropriate
visual surveillance.30 Federal law contains specific criminal penalties for both sexual assault
of federal prisoners and detainees and any sexual contact with detained persons by guards
in federal facilities.31
Recognizing an urgent need to proactively combat sexual abuse in custodial settings,
Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003.32 The act establishes a plan for
assessing the extent of rape in custodial settings and for scaling up the government’s
prevention and response efforts. The act created a commission of experts tasked with
studying the problem and developing recommended standards for use in prisons, jails, and
detention centers. In June 2009, the commission published its findings and
recommendations, including sections specific to immigration detention.33 While PREA
mandated that the Department of Justice (DOJ) issue standards within a year of receiving the
commission’s recommendations, DOJ has yet to do so.

Eighth Amendment provides too little protection for those whom the state cannot punish”); Edwards v. Johnson, 209 F.3d 772,
778 (5th Cir. 2000) (holding that the same standard applies to immigration detainees as to pre-trial detainees). But see
Medina v. O’Neill, 838 F.2d 800, 803 (5th Cir. 1988).
28

Hardin v. Stynchcomb, 691 F.2d 1364 (11th Cir. 1982), rehearing denied, 696 F.2d 1007 (11th Cir. 1983); Canedy v. Boardman,
16 F.3d 183 (7th Cir. 1994).
29

Jordan v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1521 (9th Cir. 1993); Smith v. Fairman, 678 F.2d 52 (7th Cir. 1982); Madyun v. Franzen, 704 F.2d
954 (7th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 996 (1983).

30

Fortner v. Thomas, 983 F.2d 1024 (11th Cir. 1993); Cookish v. Powell, 945 F.2d 441 (1st Cir. 1991); Cumbey v. Meachum, 684
F.2d 712 (10th Cir. 1982); Lee v. Downs, 641 F.2d 1117 (4th Cir. 1981).
31

18 U.S.C.A. § 2243(b) (Lexis 2010).

32

Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, Pub. L. 108-79, 117 Stat. 972 (2003), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 15601-09 (Lexis 2010).

33

National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report, June 2009, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.pdf (accessed
July 19, 2010).

7

Human Rights Watch | August 2010

Known Incidents and Allegations
The recent allegations of sexual abuse in detention are far from unprecedented. The
summaries below reflect complaints of abuse from detention facilities around the country,
including from Texas, Florida, New York, California and Washington State. While most of the
reported incidents have involved the abuse of female detainees, including transgender
women, men have also reported sexual abuse. The reports highlighted here occurred since
the formation of ICE in 2003, however, reports of problems of sexual abuse in detention date
back to ICE’s predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.34

Texas
Five women detained at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Texas were assaulted in
2008 when then-guard Robert Luis Loya entered each of their rooms in the detention center
infirmary, where they were patients, told them that he was operating under physician
instructions, ordered them to undress, and touched intimate parts of their bodies. In April
2010, just one month prior to the most recent alleged assaults at Hutto, a federal judge
sentenced Loya to three years in prison to be followed by community supervision for the
assaults against the female immigration detainees.35 According to the Department of Justice,
Loya, who had been employed by a private contractor to work at the facility, admitted to
sexually touching the five women. He stated in his guilty plea that he sought out duty in the
detention center’s medical unit in order to gain access to the medical isolation rooms. The
known assaults occurred in March and April of 2008, but Loya had worked as a guard for sixand-a-half years before he was dismissed when these assaults came to light.
In May 2007, when Hutto still functioned as a family detention center, a young boy was
sleeping in a crib inside his mother’s cell when a guard entered and had sexual contact with
her. Video surveillance captured the guard, employed by private contractor Corrections
Corporation of America (CCA), crawling out of the cell in the middle of the night in an

34

See e.g., Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children (now Women’s Refugee Commission), Behind Locked
Doors: Abuse of Refugee Women at the Krome Detention Center (October 2000); FIAC, INS Detainees in Florida: A Double
Standard of Treatment (December 2001); FIAC, INS Detainees in Florida: A Double Standard of Treatment (Supplement)
(January-April 2002); Mark Dow, American Gulag, 2004, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, pp. 3, 52,
143, 239.

35

Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, “Detention Officer Sentenced for Repeated Sexual Abuse of Detainees,” April
7, 2010, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/April/10-crt-380.html (accessed July 15, 2010).

Detained and at Risk

8

apparent failed attempt to evade security cameras.36 CCA fired the guard, but he never faced
criminal prosecution by either state or federal authorities. According to an ICE spokesperson,
the police investigation concluded that the sexual contact had been consensual.37 In any
Bureau of Prisons facility in the US, the same incident would have constituted a crime
because federal law criminalizes sexual contact between guards and those in their
custody.38 However, at the time, that particular provision of the federal criminal code applied
only to facilities under the authority of the Department of Justice. Immigration facilities had
been under the authority of the DOJ until 2003, but then authority passed to the newly
created Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, the statutory provision did not
cover sexual misconduct in ICE facilities at the time of the incident at Hutto. Later in 2007, a
legislative amendment was passed to make the provision cover all federal facilities.39
The South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas has also been dogged by reports of
sexual abuse of detainees.40 In 2008, media outlets reported detainees attesting to frequent
sexual abuse. One such report stated that documents obtained through a Freedom of
Information Act request described an investigation into an alleged assault of a detainee from
Mexico by a private security guard which led to his firing but did not result in prosecution.41
According to the report, the documents also said that another detainee had reported
multiple sexual assaults.42
In the summer of 2009, the Women’s Refugee Commission received numerous reports of
sexual assault at the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville.43 In at least one case, a
lawsuit was filed by the victim, who was transferred to the Port Isabel center after the
allegations were made. The allegations received by the Women’s Refugee Commission
36

Tessa Moll, “Crime without punishment: Sexual assault at T. Don Hutto falls through cracks of justice system,” Taylor Daily

Press, January 21, 2008, http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/node/526 (accessed July 15, 2010).
37

Patricia J. Rutland, “WilCo's Latest Snafu,” Austin Chronicle, November 2, 2007,
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A556552 (accessed July 15, 2010).

38

18 U.S.C.A. § 2243(b) (Lexis 2010).

39

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, Div E, Title V, 121 Stat. 2082, § 554, Dec. 26, 2007.

40

Brian Collister, “Claims of Sexual at Immigration Facility,” WOAI.com, May 6, 2008,
http://detentionwatchnetwork.org/node/862 (accessed July 15, 2010); Brian Collister, “Guards Confirm Sexual Assault Claims
at Immigrant Prison,” WOAI.com, May 16, 2008, http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/?p=242 (accessed July 15, 2010);
Brian Collister, “More Sex Assault Allegations at Immigrant Detention Center,” WOAI.com, December 29, 2008,
http://www.woai.com/content/troubleshooters/story/More-Sex-Assault-Allegations-atImmigrant/Z2ejwXKFK0CoNC8ihzKAug.cspx (accessed July 15, 2010).
41

Brian Collister, “More Sex Assault Allegations at Immigrant Detention Center,” WOAI.com, December 29, 2008.

42

Ibid.

43

Email communication from Michelle Brané, detention and asylum program director, Women’s Refugee Commission, to
Human Rights Watch, August 1, 2010.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

included not only assaults by guards on women, but also one alleged incident in which a
guard locked a female detainee in a room with a male detainee to whom he “owed a favor,”
so that he could rape her. These reports came from various sources, including former staff at
the facility who wished to remain anonymous. These alleged incidents were reported to Dora
Schriro in August of 2009 and she responded by immediately going to Willacy herself to
investigate and conduct interviews.
Children, too, have apparently been subject to alleged abuse in Texas immigration detention
facilities, although their care is overseen by the US Department of Health and Human
Services (DHHS), rather than ICE. Nine Central American children, one of whom was
identified as 16 years old, reported sexual and physical abuse while in the custody of Texas
Sheltered Care, a facility in Nixon, Texas, contracted by DHHS.44 According to claims
submitted in a lawsuit, the children were fondled, groped, and forced to perform oral sex on
one guard, and some were beaten by other guards. Although one guard was eventually
prosecuted and convicted of sex abuse, the suit claims that the children’s allegations were
initially met with retaliation and cover-up attempts by facility officials. Children who
complained were reportedly transferred punitively to other facilities, denied food, made to
sleep on the ground, and deprived of access to medical care.

Florida
In September 2007, a female detainee was being transported between two Florida detention
facilities when the ICE agent transporting her took her to his home and raped her. "I was
scared for my life," the woman said in an interview with The Miami Herald. "He had a gun.
He's a big man, and I was in his custody. I expected him to protect me, not to take advantage
of me."45 The woman, a mother of two and a 12-year resident of the US originally from
Jamaica, told another detainee at the second facility what had happened and that detainee
told the authorities. The ICE agent, Wilfredo Vazquez, was fired and brought up on federal
charges for the assault. In 2008, Vazquez and the prosecution reached an agreement that
dropped the more severe charge of aggravated sexual abuse but in which he was sentenced
to more than seven years in prison for sexual abuse.46

44

Hernán Rozemberg, “Children claim repeated sex abuse,” San Antonio Express-News, February 16, 2008.

45

Alfonso Chardy and Jay Weaver, “Agent charged with raping woman,” The Miami Herald, November 17, 2007.

46

Jay Weaver, “Ex-ICE agent: I had sex with immigration detainee,” The Miami Herald, April 4, 2008,
http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/node/808 (accessed July 15, 2010).

Detained and at Risk

10

Michelle N., 47 a trafficking victim, was sexually assaulted in 2007 in a Florida jail in which
ICE had a contract for bed space.48 At this facility, immigration detainees were housed in the
same dormitory as individuals arrested on criminal charges. Another detainee told her
attorney that women held on criminal charges had sexually abused Michelle N. while she
was partially incapacitated by sedatives, which had been prescribed by the jail health staff
for her mental health concerns. Michelle’s attorney immediately reported the allegations to
the jail and to ICE in writing. Although the jail moved Michelle to another dormitory, the
authorities did not contact the attorney and, to the attorney’s knowledge, did not take any
further action.

Washington State
Two detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, reported to
student, faculty, and nongovernmental organization researchers that they experienced
sexual harassment. The harassment included one guard asking about detainees’ sexual
activity and referring to their genitals, and another making perceived advances on a detainee
and rubbing the detainee’s buttocks “in an effort to ‘wake him up.’”49 The incidents were
documented in a July 2008 report by the Seattle University School of Law International
Human Rights Clinic and OneAmerica based on interviews with detainees between
September 2007 and April 2008. The report also discussed complaints from five detainees
about strip searches, some of which took place following attorney visits. One female
detainee quoted in the report said, “Here we were stripped completely naked, a female
officer told me to open my legs wide and she peeped into my vagina and later, she asked me
to turn my back-side and expose my anus [by separating the cheeks with her hands], I was
told to cough several times while in this position—with the officer looking at my private parts.
We were forced to subject ourselves to this dehumanizing treatment. For several days
afterward I wept and have continued to have nightmares about this treatment.”50

47

Michelle N. is a pseudonym used to protect the woman’s privacy.

48

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Florida attorney, June 29, 2010.

49

Seattle University School of Law International Human Rights Clinic and OneAmerica, “Voices from Detention: A Report on
Human Rights Violations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington,” July 2008,
http://www.law.seattleu.edu/documents/news/archive/2008/DRFinal.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010), p.43.

50

Ibid., p. 44.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

Arizona
In mid-2006, Lydia S.,51 a 41-year-old domestic violence survivor and mother of two, was
being held by ICE in a contracted detention center in Arizona.52 Also contracted to other
government agencies, the detention center accepted a large transfer of prisoners in criminal
custody from California during Lydia’s period of detention. The facility transferred the
criminal justice prisoners into the same dormitory that housed the ICE detainees. When the
prisoners arrived, the guards conducted a search for contraband that still made Lydia
shudder when she recounted it in an interview with Human Rights Watch two years later. She
said that the guards required everyone in the dorm, including the immigration detainees
who had already been in custody in the center, to strip completely naked and walk in a circle
in front of the female guards. Lydia resisted but was commanded by one of the guards to
remove her clothes. After walking in a circle, the women were instructed to bend over and
cough to determine whether they were carrying drugs. The indignity of the search deeply
upset Lydia and led her to withdraw from engaging with facility staff. “I didn’t file a request
for two whole weeks,” she said. “All I could do was cry. I was in shock.”
Rose L.,53 held by ICE for over 14 months in 2007 and 2008, was called three times for
vaginal examinations by a particular male member of the medical staff at a detention facility
in Arizona.54 On none of the occasions had she complained of a gynecological problem, and
on none was a nurse present when the male staff member conducted the exam. She told
Human Rights Watch that she and six other detainees who had similar experiences filed a
grievance. “I decided I’m going to grieve that man because I felt like he is truly hurting my
pride as a woman,” she said. The grievance was effective in the immediate term: she
reported that two days later, he was fired and escorted from the building. However, nothing
further was done to follow up with her about the effect the abuse had on her.

New York
In the course of a confidential assessment by the American Bar Association, two detainees
at a Queens detention facility reported that a guard “displayed extremely unprofessional
behavior towards detainees over a period of several years, including taking some of his
clothes off and simulating sexual acts with detainees, stating jocularly that he wanted to
have sex with detainees, and cursing routinely in his speech. When detainees complained,
51

Lydia S. is a pseudonym used to protect the woman’s privacy.

52

Human Rights Watch interview with Lydia S. (pseudonym), Arizona, May 2008.

53

Rose L. is a pseudonym used to protect the woman’s privacy.

54

Human Rights Watch interview with Rose L. (pseudonym), Arizona, May 2008.

Detained and at Risk

12

the [facility] tour commander and security chief dismissed the concerns, stating that [the
officer] was crazy and that they could not help.”55 Neither the detainees’ grievance lodged
with the facility nor the copy directed to the DOJ received a response. The detainees’
allegations became public in a July 2009 report from the National Immigration Law Center
that revealed information from hundreds of documents obtained through discovery in
litigation with the government, including the previously confidential ABA assessment from
2004.56

New Jersey
Immigration detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Center reported to DHS inspectors
that a guard used a camera phone to take pictures of them leaving the shower and the
bathroom and when they were sleeping.57 After receiving the reports from the detainees in
July 2005, the DHS Office of Inspector General interviewed the officer, who denied the
allegations, and referred the incident to the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility.

Wisconsin
A Thai woman detained on immigration charges at a Wisconsin jail was sexually assaulted
by other detainees but received no help from the jail guards to whom she reported the abuse,
according to a 2007 briefing paper prepared by the National Immigrant Justice Center, which
provided the woman with legal representation.58 The center reports that the woman was
unable to tell her attorney of the assaults for three months because the jail did not give her
the opportunity to have a private telephone conversation. During that time, the guards did
not provide her with help to escape the abuse, even after one incident led to her
hospitalization.

California
Before a hearing of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission in December 2006,
Mayra Soto (whose name is now Esmeralda Soto) testified about her experience being
55

Ibid., p. 63.

56

National Immigration Law Center, et al., “A Broken System: Confidential Reports Reveal Failures in U.S. Immigrant
Detention Centers,” July 2009, http://www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/arrestdet/A-Broken-System-2009-07.pdf (accessed July 15,
2010).
57

Office of Inspector General, DHS, “Treatment of Immigration Detainees Housed at Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Facilities,” December 2006, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/library/P1598.pdf (accessed August 13, 2010), p. 29.

58

National Immigrant Justice Center, Briefing Paper for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants re:
The Situation of Women Detained in the United States, April 16, 2007,
http://www.immigrantwomennetwork.org/Resources/Briefing%20Paper_Women%20in%20Detention_UN%20Special%20Ra
pporteur%202007%2004%2017%20FINAL.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010).

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

sexually assaulted and otherwise mistreated as a transgender woman in ICE custody.59 Soto
was detained at the San Pedro Service Processing Center in December 2003. While she
waited in a holding cell to speak with her attorney, she said a guard came in and forced her
to perform oral sex on him. He left for a short time and then came back and commanded her
to do it again.
In her testimony about the assault, Soto emphasized the trauma caused by not just the
assault, but by the events that followed her reporting of it. She said she continued to have
flashbacks of having to wait overnight to wash out her mouth because of delays in arranging
for evidence collection. The distress and depression she experienced following the assault
went largely untreated and she had difficulty eating and sleeping. She felt hostility and
pressure to retract her accusation from the other guards at the detention center. The guard
who assaulted her was fired, but took a plea in the criminal case, resulting in a sentence of
just six months, plus probation.
When she was detained again at the same facility in May 2005, following her deportation
and subsequent return to the US, she was told that another transgender detainee who had
been released had been mistaken for her and murdered in apparent retribution for the rape
charges brought against the guard. When Soto was detained this second time, the facility
housed her in a unit with the general male population, where she was subject to sexual
harassment. After being physically injured in a fight between two detainees who claimed to
“own her,” she was placed in protective custody. The protection, however, amounted to
solitary confinement.
In another incident, a woman detained at a contract facility run by CCA in San Diego reported
being raped by a guard while on work detail.60 According to the Office of the Inspector
General at DHS, which documented the report in an audit of five facilities published in
December 2006, the guard was fired following an investigation, but the Department of
Justice declined to pursue criminal charges.61 The audit also found a complaint from
December 2004 alleging that a guard had conducted a “physically abusive ‘pat down’ search
that was followed up by a strip search conducted within view of other detainees.”62

59

Mayra Soto, Testimony before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Testimony, Los Angeles, December 13,
2006, http://www.justdetention.org/en/NPREC/esmeraldasoto.aspx (accessed July 15, 2010).
60

Office of Inspector General, DHS, “Treatment of Immigration Detainees Housed at Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Facilities,” December 2006, p. 28.

61

Ibid.

62

Ibid.

Detained and at Risk

14

Challenges in Policy, Implementation, and Oversight
ICE has made substantial improvements in its response to sexual assault and abuse,
particularly in the past three years. In developing the 2008 Performance-Based National
Detention Standards for its detention facilities, ICE included for the first time a standard on
sexual assault and abuse prevention and intervention.63 The standard required screening
detainees to identify those with a history of abuse, providing detainees with an orientation
to sexual assault policies, reporting and investigating all allegations of sexual abuse, and
providing medical treatment and forensic examinations to victims of abuse. Since drafting
this new standard, ICE has worked on revising it, taking into account the recommendations
of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission and of NGOs. ICE has been especially
active in soliciting input from the NGO community on this issue since the reports of sexual
assault at Hutto came out in May 2010. As a result of these efforts, a much-improved sexual
assault standard is expected to be published in the fall of 2010, along with other revised
detention standards. ICE anticipates that by winter implementation will have commenced in
the top 22 facilities that house the majority of the agency’s population.64
Among the improvements expected in the new standard are the expectation that facilities
show zero tolerance for sexual abuse, more thorough requirements for data collection and
reporting, and the addition of emergency contraception (EC) to the guidelines for the facility
medical response. This latter issue is also to be addressed in a newly created women’s
health standard. The creation of a standard on women’s health represents a major step
forward in ICE’s response to the needs of women in the agency’s custody. It should be noted,
however, that sexual assault victims transported outside the facility for specialized care will
only have access to EC “as available,” which will restrict access when victims are taken to
hospitals that do not provide the intervention. This could arise in the case of certain
hospitals that object on religious grounds to providing EC. Human Rights Watch interviewed
a woman in 2008 who had been taken to a hospital and then to a separate clinic for
emergency contraception after she was apprehended by ICE following an assault crossing
the border.65 Taking such steps to ensure access to EC for sexual assault victims should be
required of all detention centers.

63

ICE/DRO Detention Standard No. 14, “Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention,” December 2, 2008,
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/PBNDS/pdf/sexual_abuse_and_assault_prevention_and_intervention.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010).

64

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

65

Human Rights Watch interview with Suana Michel, Q. (pseudonym), New York, July 2008.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

As detailed below, ICE has agreed to revise its search and transportation policies to address
concerns regarding safety in those contexts. Although further policy changes are in order,
taken together, the changes expected in the new standards have the potential to greatly
enhance the prevention of and response to sexual abuse in ICE custody.
However, these improvements will only be effective if and when they are implemented. ICE
has not yet published the standards and once they are published, plans to roll them out
gradually. This will mean that some facilities could remain without any standard for some
time, as some facilities still operate under the 2000 standards, which did not include a
standard on sexual assault. Further, in the long term, improved policies will have little
impact if detainee safety remains compromised by inadequate opportunities for detainees
to seek redress and insufficient oversight of the detention system. Highlighted below are
areas in which there is a continuing need for improvement in ICE’s response to sexual
assault, abuse, and harassment.

An Inadequate Response to Sexual Abuse and Harassment
ICE fails to fully inform detainees about the rules governing sexual misconduct and sexual
harassment. Although federal law now criminalizes sexual contact between guards and
detainees, the prohibition on such conduct is far from clear at the facility level. Advocates
report that detainees sometimes deny knowledge of sexual misconduct at their facility, but
will refer to “alliances” between detainees and guards based on sexual relationships. The
National Detainee Handbook developed by ICE does not define sexual abuse or sexual
harassment. ICE has informed Human Rights Watch that it plans to revise the detainee
handbook to state in plain language the agency’s “zero tolerance” for abuse.66
Sexual harassment receives sparse and inconsistent treatment in current ICE materials. In
some instances, the definition of sexual harassment is limited to actions or communications
“aimed at coercing or pressuring a detainee to engage in a sexual act.”67 This fails to
encompass egregious acts of harassment—humiliating comments of a sexual nature or

66

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

67

The 2008 ICE/DRO detention standard on sexual abuse defines detainee-on-detainee sexual abuse or assault as including
“the use of threats, intimidation, inappropriate touching, or other actions and or communications by one or more detainees
aimed at coercing and or pressuring another detainee to engage in a sexual act.” No mention of communications is made in
the definition of staff-on-detainee sexual abuse or assault, which focuses on sexual acts, the touching of intimate parts, or the
attempt of either. ICE/DRO Detention Standard No. 14, “Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention,” pp. 4-5.
However, in Appendix C to the standard, which is intended for posting in housing units for immigration detainees, “staff
sexual misconduct” is defined as including “indecent, profane or abusive language or gestures and inappropriate visual
surveillance of detainees.” ICE/DRO Detention Standard No. 14, “Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention,” p.
16.

Detained and at Risk

16

unnecessary viewing of detainees while they undress—that are not directed towards
instigating a sex act. The new detention standard on sexual assault prevention and response
will incorporate a definition of sexual harassment that covers indecent, profane or abusive
language or gestures and inappropriate visual surveillance of detainees.68

Unrestricted Searches
In spite of the non-criminal nature of immigration detention, ICE has adopted a policy that
imposes few limitations on guards’ authority to search detainees and, consequently, opens
up unnecessary opportunities for abuse of that authority. To conduct a pat-down search of a
detainee, a guard need not meet any threshold of suspicion of contraband; it is
contemplated that these searches will be conducted routinely.69 ICE insists this policy is
necessary to give facilities flexibility in maintaining security.70 Currently, although crossgender strip searches are only permitted in emergency situations, no restriction is placed on
cross-gender pat searches.71 However, ICE has said that the new detention standards will
prohibit cross-gender pat searches and will allow trans-gender detainees to select the
gender of the guard searching them.72

Transportation Policy Failures
Sexual assault of detainees in the course of transportation has now been reported on at
least two occasions. While ICE attributed the most recent incident during transportation from
Hutto to a failure to follow ICE policies, those policies are themselves insufficient. Despite
appeals from advocates that the transportation standard be amended to require that a
female guard be present during transportation of female detainees, the existing standard
has only required that transporting guards call in the time and mileage they spend
transporting a female detainee.73 ICE has announced that the new standard will prohibit a
single guard from transporting a single detainee of the opposite sex, but will not require the
presence of a guard of the same-sex unless it is expected that a search of the detainee will
be conducted during the transport.74 The agency says that it cannot require a guard of the
68

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

69

ICE/DRO Detention Standard No. 13, “Searches of Detainees,” December 2, 2008,
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/PBNDS/pdf/searches_of_detainees.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010), p.4.
70

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

71

Ibid.

72

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

73

ICE/DRO Detention Standard No. 3, “Transportation (By Land),” December 2, 2008,
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/PBNDS/pdf/transportation_by_land.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010), p.4.
74

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

same gender be present in all transports because of an Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission ruling that found such a policy constitutes gender discrimination.75

Redress
The existing and forthcoming ICE standards on sexual assault provide for facility staff to
report allegations of sexual abuse to ICE for administrative investigation and to appropriate
law enforcement authorities for criminal investigation. However, before allegations can be
reported to higher authorities they have to be reported in the first instance by the detainees.
Creating safe spaces for detainees to report abuse is critical for assessing the extent of
abuse and, most importantly, for ensuring that individual survivors can seek safety and get
access to needed medical, psychological, and legal services. ICE informs detainees in its
handbook of multiple ways of reporting abuse, including by calling a toll free number for the
Office of the Inspector General.76 However, certain key avenues for reporting abuse are
flawed. For example, detainees at times have to seek out grievance forms from guards
overseeing their care, who may be the ones responsible for abuse or may be perceived as
posing a threat of retaliation. Detainees who do use facility grievance systems to complain
about detention conditions and related issues report that responses are frequently delayed
and often unsatisfactory, reducing confidence in the system.77 In the fall of 2010, ICE plans
to review the grievance system in consultation with an advisory committee composed of
nongovernmental organizations.78
Moreover, all of the authorities to whom detainees are told they can report are part of, or,
contracted by the government. ICE has begun to encourage facilities to cooperate with
community service providers, such as local rape crisis centers, in sexual assault and abuse
prevention and intervention efforts. An ICE internal working group on the agency’s victim
assistance program will be looking at ways to expand collaboration with providers.79 To
make these partnerships effective, ICE leadership should require facilities to permit
community service providers access to facilities so that they can conduct sexual assault
awareness activities and can serve as an additional, independent point of contact for

75

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.The Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission decision is Regina Pratt v. Department of Homeland Security, EEOC Appeal No. 0720050059 (February 23, 2007),
request for reconsideration denied, EEOC Request No. 0520070398 (May 3, 2007).
76

ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations, National Detainee Handbook, February 2009,
http://www.ice.gov/doclib/pi/dro/nat_det_hndbk.pdf (accessed July 15, 2010), pp. 8-9.
77

Human Rights Watch, Detained and Dismissed:, pp. 40-42.

78

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

79

Ibid.

Detained and at Risk

18

detainees who need services or wish to report abuse. They should have opportunities to
speak with detainees in private so that they can confidentially ask them about their
treatment at the facility. The community service providers can then work with individual
detainees on bringing the abuse to the appropriate authorities.
An additional deficiency in ICE’s response to sexual abuse is the lack of standardized
procedures for ensuring that, once abuse is reported, the victims of the abuse and any
witnesses are not deported. In addition to taking measures in the short term to prevent
immediate deportation, ICE should make victims aware that they may be eligible to apply for
a U-visa, which allows for crime victims to remain in the United States and cooperate with
law enforcement authorities. As recently as the May incident at Hutto, advocates have faced
difficulties in establishing that affected detainees were informed of and given access to this
avenue of relief. ICE indicated that this concern has been noted and that discussions are
taking place within the Department of Homeland Security on how to address this in the
future.80

Oversight and Accountability
An overextended, decentralized system of detention subject to few external controls
continues to put the safety of immigration detainees at risk. The numerous different types of
facilities used—to which differing detention standards can apply and over which ICE has
varying degrees of control—have posed a major obstacle to effective monitoring and
oversight of conditions. Further, a detainee may be moved through a succession of facilities
with different procedures, heightening the risk that an episode of abuse will go undetected.
Human Rights Watch has documented the frequent transfers of immigration detainees
across long distances, which undermine access to legal counsel and to family.81 Removing
these support structures can damage not just a detainee’s immigration case, but also his or
her ability to challenge abuses within detention.
Following extensive criticism of the immigration detention system and the scattered network
facilities it includes, ICE has explored options for enhancing its control over conditions at
facilities used by the agency. These efforts have included employing contractors to conduct
assessments of facility compliance with detention standards, staffing the 40 facilities
holding the most ICE detainees with detention monitors (first contracted monitors, then

80

Ibid.

81

Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,
December 2, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/node/86789 (accessed July 15, 2010).

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Human Rights Watch | August 2010

federal officials), and concentrating detainees in fewer facilities to allow for closer oversight.
It is notable, however, that the recent incident at Hutto took place in spite of these efforts.
ICE’s efforts have focused on enhancing its own oversight, but as advocates have noted, the
agency has resisted opening up the detention system to external oversight. Most notably,
ICE has refused to issue legally binding regulations governing detention conditions, stating
that the flexibility of standards allows for meaningful change.82 However, regulations would
provide stronger protection for detainees and enhance their ability to seek redress for
violations in courts of law. Further, the limited access to facilities available to outside
community service providers and advocacy groups contributes to making the detention
system a place where abuses can be hidden until, often, the victims are shipped away.

82

Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, ICE, August 18, 2010.

Detained and at Risk

20

Recommendations
To the Department of Homeland Security
•

Institute legally binding detention standards applicable across all types of
immigration detention facilities. Issue regulations with standards for conditions of
detention in ICE custody, so that the standards have the force of law.

•

Appoint a Prison Rape Elimination Act coordinator. Augment the capacity of the
Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties by establishing a position dedicated to
implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. One function of such a position
would be to coordinate trainings for ICE headquarters, field office, and detention
facility staff.

•

Publish information on reported incidents of sexual assault. DHS should also
cooperate with the Bureau of Justice Statistics on research into the prevalence of
sexual assault and abuse, and make the findings publicly available.

To Immigration and Customs Enforcement
•

Ensure that reports of sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated. Investigations
should include an inquiry into the actions or failures to act by all ICE employees and
contractors responsible for that facility. Without compromising victim confidentiality,
the results and progress of investigations should be made public. ICE should
cooperate with the Department of Justice and law enforcement authorities to ensure
that criminal sanctions are pursued where appropriate.

•

Expedite implementation of the detention standard on sexual assault and abuse
prevention and intervention across all facilities holding ICE detainees. Special
attention should be given to the swift implementation of the detention standard on
sexual assault and abuse prevention and intervention. The standard was first
included in the 2008 Performance Based National Detention Standards. However,
those standards have not been put into effect across all facilities, meaning that
some facilities have no standards at all on this issue. The 2008 standard has since
been revised, but the new version has not been released publicly. ICE should
expedite the publication and implementation of the new standard.

•

Improve the monitoring of facility compliance with detention standards. Monitoring
should be carried out by multiple independent, nongovernmental organizations that
do not contract with ICE for other services. Contracts for monitoring should be nonrenewable to eliminate incentives for biased reviews. The monitoring should include

21

Human Rights Watch | August 2010

random inspections with unlimited access to the facility and should allow for
detainees to speak privately with monitors during inspections. The monitors’
findings should be made public.
•

Require detention centers to facilitate on-site access for local community providers
of support services for sexual assault survivors. Wherever a willing, reputable
community provider of services to sexual assault survivors is available for
partnership, facilities should be required to coordinate with the provider on
prevention and response programs, including arranging for the provider to have
access to the facility for information sessions and consultations with the detainee
population.

•

Standardize procedures for ensuring access to appropriate immigration relief and
release from detention for victims and witnesses. Formal procedures should be
developed to ensure detainees are apprised of and given access to avenues of
immigration relief, such as the U- and T-visas, which allow victims of crime and of
trafficking, respectively, temporary leave to stay and cooperate in the investigation
of the crimes, with the potential to later adjust to permanent status. This should
happen as a matter of course on taking someone into custody and in particular
following allegations of abuse. Formal procedures should also be developed to
prevent deportation of potential victims and witnesses, and to explore possibilities
for their release. ICE should create a publically available U-visa certification policy
that clarifies a process for certification and how an individual would know she or he
is eligible.

•

Eliminate cross-gender searches. Ensure that the recently announced change to
prohibit guards from conducting cross-gender body searches is included in the final
revised standard.

•

Require reasonable suspicion for pat searches on detainees within detention
facilities. After a detainee has been searched upon admission to a facility,
reasonable suspicion should be required to justify additional intrusions on their
privacy.

•

Ensure that detainees are fully informed about their rights with respect to sexual
assault, abuse, and harassment. This should include amending the detainee
handbook to include definitions of sexual abuse and sexual harassment so that the
prohibition on sexual contact between guards and detainees is clear. Handbooks
and complaint procedures at all facilities should be translated into multiple
languages.

Detained and at Risk

22

•

Institute procedures for ensuring the safety of detainees at a heightened risk of
abuse. Procedures should address how to determine the safest housing
assignments for detainees at heightened risk of abuse, including detainees with
mental disabilities and mentally ill detainees, especially those on medication.

•

Ensure access to appropriate medical treatment for survivors of assault. Whether
detainees are treated inside or outside the facility for sexual assault, they should
have access to the full range of treatment options, including for sexually transmitted
diseases and emergency contraception.

To the Department of Justice
•

Issue regulations based on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s
recommendations without delay. PREA called for DOJ to propose regulations on
prison rape within one year of receiving the recommended standards from the
National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. That year has passed with no
regulations.

•

Review the department’s experience in prosecuting sexual assault and abuse in
immigration detention. In conjunction with ICE, conduct a review of reported cases of
sexual assault and abuse to identify any procedural obstacles that have inhibited
the prosecution of perpetrators of abuse.

To the US Congress
•

Demand disclosure of ICE records related to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment
in detention. Require ICE to produce records detailing the number of reports of such
misconduct received through multiple possible channels (the ICE Office of
Professional Responsibility, the DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Joint Intake
Center, among others) and the action taken in response to these reports.

•

Pass legislation setting standards. Write into law minimum standards for conditions
at all types of immigration detention facilities nationwide.

23

Human Rights Watch | August 2010

Acknowledgments
Human Rights Watch is grateful to the immigration detainees whose accounts appear in this
report and to the immigration advocacy organizations and attorneys who supported the
research. The report was researched and written by Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the
Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. The report was edited by Janet Walsh,
deputy director of the Women’s Rights Division, and Alison Parker, director of the US
Program. It was reviewed by Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor, and Robin Shulman,
consultant to the Program Office. Additional research and editorial assistance was provided
by Daniela Ramirez, coordinator in the Women’s Rights Division, and by Kate Welsh, intern.
Grace Choi, Ella Moran, and Fitzroy Hepkins provided production and photo assistance.

Detained and at Risk

24

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H U M A N

www.hrw.org

W A T C H

Detained and at Risk
Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States Immigration Detention
In May 2010, reports surfaced that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) was
investigating allegations that a guard at a Texas immigration detention center had sexually assaulted several
female detainees. The guard, who was arrested on August 19, 2010, on suspicion of official oppression and
unlawful restraint, allegedly groped women while transporting them to an airport and a bus station where they
were being released. While largely covered in the media as an isolated incident, this was only the latest in a series
of assaults, abuses, and episodes of harassment that have quietly emerged as a pattern across the rapidly
expanding immigration detention system. Due to a shortage of publicly available data and the closed nature of
the detention system, the extent to which ICE detainees are subject to sexual abuse nationwide is unclear, but
the known incidents are too serious and numerous to ignore.
ICE has recently proposed policy changes to address sexual abuse, and these show promise. They include
prohibitions on guards searching detainees of a different gender and restrictions on when guards may transport
detainees of a different gender. ICE plans to publish a revised detention standard that includes new requirements
for facilities to develop medical and investigation procedures and to collect data on incidents of abuse. However,
more changes are needed, as well as greater oversight and accountability.
“Detained and at Risk” is based on the examination of allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in
ICE detention from a range of sources, including press reports, governmental and nongovernmental studies, a
public hearing, court documents, and Human Rights Watch interviews. The report shows evidence of a disturbing
pattern of abuse, and points to an urgent need for investigation and action to correct glaring gaps in detention
policy and practice.

An undocumented Mexican immigrant waits
to be deported from the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) center in Phoenix,
Arizona, on April 28, 2010.
© 2008 John Moore/Getty Images

R I G H T S

 

 

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