It’s hard to ignore the numerous ways in which our system of immigration incarceration harms our communities: on a daily basis, tens of thousands of people are warehoused in jails, many of them far from their families, separated from children and other loved ones, and unable to access legal assistance. To our horror, immigration detention produces story after story of even more extreme abuse, including denial of adequate healthcare, refusal of appropriate housing facilities, and unpunished sexual abuse of immigration detainees. We hope that shedding more light on the reality of abuse in immigration detention will help improve the transparency of the system; force recognition of its over-expansion, under-regulation, and general inefficacy for addressing immigration infractions; and, ultimately, bring about the end of our reliance on incarcerating immigrants.
Recently, thirty members of Congress have expressed their solidarity not only with the tens of thousands of immigrants who suffer from immigration detention and deportation system’s general operation, but also with the untold hundreds or even thousands of immigrants who suffer additional abuse—sexual abuse—while detained by the state. Women and LGBTQ detainees have been particularly vulnerable to these types of abuse, and many stories have been made public. Even so, the administration has declined to apply the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which would help with developing standards, gathering data, and deploying funds to reduce prison rape, to immigration detention.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the agency charged with our immigration “enforcement” system, which includes detention—does not provide data on the occurrence of sexual assault in detention, but several non-profit organizations have taken on efforts to uncover this information. The ACLU of Arizona, for instance, has identified five cases of LGBTQ detainees in Arizona who have suffered sexual assault in immigration detention. The National Immigrant Justice Center has filed at least 17 complaints of serious human rights violations, some including sexual abuse, against LGBTQ detainees. The ACLU of Texas has similarly filed a lawsuit on behalf of three women who suffered sexual abuse in detention in Texas, but their investigation uncovered 200 allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities nationwide in approximately a four-year period.
This information isn’t new, but it’s as stunning as the first time it came to light that individuals should be maintained in such inhumane conditions. We are pleased that recognition is spreading that immigration detention has massive problems and imposes huge costs on detainees, their families, our communities, and the American people. We commend the members of Congress involved in the push for investigation of sexual assault in immigration detention and look forward to seeing what their efforts uncover.
If you’re interested in the unique struggles that women and LGBTQ immigrants face in the U.S., both in and out of immigration detention, please consult the resources of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR) and consider joining us!