In the last several years, rates of detention have soared. U.S. Immigration officials detain over 200,000 individuals and spend more than $600 million dollars on detention each year.
A report released in 2004 by Just Detention International, a national human rights organization, entitled “No Refuge Here: A First Look at Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention,” calls attention to the troubling problem of sexual abuse in immigration detention centers in the United States.
The report focuses on three central issues: (1) the considerable reported record of sexual abuse of detainees, (2) the lack of substantive policies and procedures in place to address such abuse, and (3) immigration officials’ refusal to allow independent monitoring of conditions for detainees. JDI calls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to implement more detailed and comprehensive standards for the prevention and treatment of sexual assault in facilities that hold immigration detainees.
Immigration officials have raped detainees and have abused their authority by exchanging goods and privileges for sex. Threats of violence and deportation have been used by immigration staff to coerce detainees into performing sex acts. Staff members have watched female detainees when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet and some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of detainees. Detainees have also reported groping and other sexual abuse by staff during pat frisks and searches.
The ramifications of sexual violence against women in immigration detention can be quite severe. Long-term consequences may include post-traumatic stress disorder, self-hatred, substance abuse, depression, and suicide.
Moreover, forced sex in detention facilities, where preventative methods are virtually nonexistent, intensify the threat of HIV exposure. In addition to this possibility of disease exposure that all rape victims experiences, females detainees have been impregnated as a result of staff sexual misconduct.
In addition to difficulties speaking English, detainees often have difficulty speaking out when a tragedy as dehumanizing as sexual abuse strikes, especially in an unfamiliar culture within the walls of a formidable institution. Another barrier to addressing sexual abuse in detention is the fact that U.S. law does not give detainees the right to government-appointed counsel, contributing to this population’s lack of contact with those who might advocate on their behalf. In fact, according to the report, 78% of immigrant detainees do not receive legal representation.
Given the troubling record of abuse in immigration detention facilities, it is essential for the ICE to make substantive improvements to its polices in this area. Four years after the report was published, in 2008, ICE held over 310,000 people in custody, including adults, families, and unaccompanied minors. The explosive growth in rates of immigration detention has been accompanied by a worsening culture of secrecy at ICE, resulting in a climate is “ripe for sexual assault.”
By Ivette Sanchez, Policy and Advocacy Intern