Congress Members Call for Investigation Into Sexual Abuse in U.S. Immigration Detention System

January 10, 2012

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Michael Quigley (D-IL), and 28 other members of Congress for holding the Obama administration accountable for sexual abuse against immigrants in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The representatives sent a letter on January 9 to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) – often referred to as the congressional watchdog – calling for an investigation into the incidence of rape and other forms of sexual violence against immigrants detained at DHS-contracted private prisons and county jails. The letter cites a series of civil rights complaints submitted by NIJC to DHS in 2011.
 
“We are grateful to members of Congress who are responding to growing evidence that our government is failing to provide fundamental protections to immigrants in its custody,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “In 2012, ending rape in prisons and jails seems an obvious and immediate step that the Obama administration must take to initiate desperately needed immigration detention reform.”
 
Since April 2011, NIJC has filed 17 civil rights complaints on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, a number of whom were victims of sexual violence while in immigration custody. The congressional letter also refers to an October 2011 Frontline documentary, Lost in Detention, which detailed the pervasive nature of rape and sexual assault in immigration detention facilities. According to government documents cited in the documentary, nearly 200 allegations of abuse from immigrants in detention facilities across the nation have been reported to DHS since 2007.
 
In their letter, the congressional representatives ask the GAO to conduct a detailed audit of immigration detention facilities to examine the incidence of sexual violence, identify what steps DHS is taking to rectify the problem, and suggest actions that would eliminate sexual violence from the immigration detention system. 
 
The Prison Rape Elimination Act, expected to be implemented in 2012, would require officials to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in jails and prisons, implement policies to prevent sexual assault and rape, and protect those who report it. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has refused to apply the law to the immigration detention system.
 
More information about NIJC’s efforts to end human rights abuses against detained LGBT immigrants is available at www.immigrantjustice.org/stop-lgbt-abuse.
 
Read the congressional letter here.