Stop Sexual Abuse of Detained Immigrants

Sexual violence is pervasive in America’s prisons and jails. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch uncovered numerous allegations of sexual abuse, specifically in immigration detention facilities. In April 2011, NIJC filed a mass civil rights complaint on behalf of sexual minorities in immigration detention, several of whom were victims of sexual abuse in U.S. immigration custody.

Congress took an important step to prevent sexual abuse in prison when it unanimously passed the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which set a “zero-tolerance standard” for prison rape and created guidelines to hold correctional facilities accountable for protecting inmates. In May 2012, the Obama administration instructed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to promulgate regulations for how the law will be implemented in the immigration detention system. DHS was given one year to implement a final rule. DHS released draft regulations in December 2012 and, although the deadline issued under the memorandum was set for May of 2013, DHS did not issue final regulations until March 2014.

The decision to require DHS to implement its own regulations was made following vigorous advocacy by NIJC and a broad coalition of immigrant and prisoner rights groups who argued that protection from sexual assault should not hinge on one's immigration status. The links below document NIJC's ongoing work and accomplishments to secure PREA protections for detained immigrants.


DHS Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Sexual Abuse and Assault in Confinement Facilities

NIJC's letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on proposed DHS PREA regulations (February 2013)

NIJC testimony submitted to Department of Justice Panel Hearing on Prison Rape (September 2011)

NIJC’s Policy Brief- The Prison Rape Elimination Act: Obama Must Protect Immigrants from Sexual Assault (August 2011)

NIJC's letter to Attorney General Holder during the public comment period on the proposed PREA regulations (April 2011)

Advocacy from Members of Congress

Letter from 58 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling on the department to implement robust PREA regulations to protect LGBT youth (December 2014)

Letter from 28 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into sexual violence in U.S. immigration detention system (January 2012) 

Letter from 38 members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling on DHS to investigate reports of abuse of detained LGBT immigrants (June 2011)

Media Coverage

Push to End Prison Rapes Loses Earlier Momentum | New York Times | May 12, 2015

For one McHenry County detainee, life inside an immigration detention center is filled with heartbreak, fear and despair | Northwest Herald | Dec. 28, 2014

NIJC press release on implementation of DHS PREA regulations | May 6, 2014

U.S. Finally Extends Anti-Rape Protections to Immigration Detainees | Mint Press News | Mar. 13, 2014

NIJC press release on release of DHS PREA regulations | Mar. 10, 2014

Man Alleges Rape while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement Custody | Great Falls Tribune | John Adams | Nov. 13, 2013

DHS Releases Prison Rape Elimination Act Regulations for Detained Immigrants (Dec.2012)

NIJC press release about the New York City Council hearing on immigration detention & NIJC testimony at council hearing (Dec. 2011)

Immigration Detainees Seek Prison-Rape Protection | NPR | Dec. 13, 2011

NIJC press release about additional civil rights complaints filed with OCRCL on behalf of LGBT individuals abused in detention (Oct. 2011) 

NIJC press release announcing the filing of a mass civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL) and Office of Inspector General on behalf of LGBT immigrants who suffered human rights violations, including sexual assault while in immigration detention (April 2011)