New report uncovers ongoing failure to report, investigate sexual abuse in immigration detention

Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a 93 page summary of their investigation into immigration detention facilities and whether they are properly reporting the sexual abuse of immigrant detainees. The report unveils the ongoing failures of immigration detention facilities in reporting and addressing instances of sexual abuse that occur far too frequently in immigration detention sites. For example, the GAO report details the experience of a transgender woman who was sexually assaulted by a male guard while in solitary confinement in a male facility. In this case, the guard admitted to the abuse and was prosecuted by federal authorities. However, the report explained that many allegations of sexual abuse by detainees around the country go unreported and unaddressed by detention staff. Shockingly, at the facilities that GAO visited during their investigation, 40% of the allegations made by detainees had not been reported to ICE headquarters as required.

Over the years, NCTE has worked to prevent the sexual assault of all people in confinement. We have especially highlighted the abuse of transgender immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable to abuse. In addition to encouraging the Department of Homeland Security to issue strong regulations that comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, NCTE released a report detailing trans immigrants’ struggles, and encouraged ICE to improve its monitoring of the use of solitary confinement. Although DHS has made some important steps forward, much still needs to be done to ensure that all immigrants, and especially vulnerable transgender immigrants, are free from abuse and mistreatment in detention.

The GAO’s new report provides even more evidence and support for important policy changes to be made in the near future. NCTE fully supports the GAO’s recommendations that DHS should “(1) develop additional controls to ensure all allegations are reported to headquarters, (2) coordinate government access to hotline connectivity data, (3) document and maintain reliable information on detention standards, and (4) develop a process for performing oversight of sexual assault prevention provisions consistently across facilities.”

While GAO was not able to make recommendations about protecting LGBT detainees because so few cases were adequately reported and investigated, the report’s findings underscore the need for strong PREA rules that include unequivocal protections for this vulnerable population. The finding that a transgender woman was assaulted despite the harsh segregation intended to “protect” her in a male facility demonstrates the pressing need to ensure transgender people are either kept out of detention facilities or housed consistent with their gender identity. DHS’s forthcoming PREA regulations must also immediately extend to facilities under outside contracts.

In addition to specific federal agency rules, however, we still need to reform the broken system that puts so many people in unnecessary, costly, and dangerous detention. You can help by contacting your Congressional representative today and asking them to urge Speaker Boehner to bring immigration reform to a vote in the House of Representatives.

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