Human Rights monitor
US: immigration detainees at risk of sexual abuse
Government should act quickly to increase protection,
THE US government needs to strengthen its protection of people in immigration detention to prevent sexual abuse and to ensure justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on August 25, 2010. The 24-page report, "Detained and at Risk: Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States Immigration Detention," describes documented incidents and allegations of abuse. It also discusses recent proposals by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to address the issue. Human Rights Watch emphasised that the agency should make improvements swiftly to improve oversight of the entire detention system and ensure accountability. "ICE has finally recognised the need for stronger protection of people in detention against sexual abuse, but it needs to play catch up quickly," said Meghan Rhoad, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "ICE needs to get new rules in place and make sure the rules have the teeth to ensure compliance from the hundreds of facilities across the detention system”, Meghan added.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that the changes ICE proposes will have limited impact if ICE only makes changes to its standards. It has refused to issue binding legal regulations to address problems with detention conditions. ICE has proposed many of the policy changes since allegations emerged in May that a guard employed by a contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, at the T. Don Hutto immigration facility in Texas had sexually assaulted several 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.
The proposed policy changes include prevention measures such as prohibiting guards from searching detainees of a different gender and setting restrictions on when guards may transport detainees of a different gender. ICE also plans to publish a revised detention standard on sexual assault that contains improvements in required medical procedures in rape cases and improved procedures for data collection about incidents of abuse. Human Rights Watch said that further policy improvements are needed to limit unnecessary searches of detainees and to ensure that victims of abuse are informed of the availability of visas that would allow them to stay in the US so that they can cooperate with law enforcement in criminal cases related to abuse. "Giving detention standards the force of law is critical for remedying a host of abuses," Rhoad said.
The frequency with which sexual assault, abuse, and harassment occur in detention is largely unknown. The Bureau of Justice Statistics collects some data on the problem that includes incidents in facilities run by or exclusively for ICE. But it does not tabulate the numbers of assaults on immigration detainees held in state and county jails where ICE rents a portion of the bed space. In its June 2009 report, the congressionally mandated National Prison Rape Elimination Commission said that immigrants in detention face particular challenges in reporting abuse, including a lack of information about rules governing staff conduct and fear of speaking out against the same authority that is seeking their deportation. In 2007, a trafficking victim was sexually assaulted in a Florida jail with which ICE had a contract to rent bed space for immigration detainees. Women detained on criminal charges who were housed in the same dormitory assaulted the trafficking victim while she was partially incapacitated by prescribed sedatives.
Key recommendations from the report include:
* Institute legally binding detention standards applicable across all types of immigration detention facilities.
* Ensure that reports of sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated.
* Improve the monitoring of compliance with detention standards by detention facilities.
* Expedite implementation of the detention standard on preventing and responding to sexual assault and abuse across all facilities holding ICE detainees.
* Require detention centers to facilitate on-site access for local community providers of support services for sexual assault survivors.
* Standardize procedures for ensuring access to appropriate relief measures for victims, including release from detention and visas to remain in the United States and assist law enforcement.
* Ensure that detainees are fully informed about their rights with respect to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.
* Review the department's experience in prosecuting sexual assault and abuse in immigration detention with a view to improving procedures and prosecution rates.
* Pass legislation setting standards for detention conditions.
Source: Human Rights Watch.