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Congress Members Urge President To Issue Strong Protections To Prevent Sexual Abuse Of Immigrant Detainees

By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee  

"Congress Members Urge President To Issue Strong Protections To Prevent Sexual Abuse Of Immigrant Detainees"

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On the heels of a damning study finding that sexual assault incidents against immigrant detainees are under-reported in federal detention centers, a dozen bipartisan Congressional members urged the President to enforce strong measures to prevent immigrants placed in detention centers from sexual abuse and assault. On Tuesday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) released a letter asking the Obama administration to issue regulations “in order to achieve the goals of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003,” which would create national and uniform standards to prevent sexual abuse in prisons and confinement centers, like detention centers.

Quigley’s statement read in part, “The pervasive and systematic abuse of detainees held in immigration detention facilities, essentially at the hands of the government, is unconscionable. This urgent matter must be addressed quickly and at the highest possible level.”

The letter comes a week after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that there were 215 allegations of sexual abuse and assault against immigrants in detention centers between October 2010 to March 2013. GAO researchers found an alarming litany of issues at ten detention facilities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents failing to report 28 allegations of sexual abuse, or about 40 percent of 70 total allegations. ICE guidelines are in place at 250 detention facilities nationwide, but there are no “controls” to ensure that field office officials report allegations. Those 250 detention centers house about 90 percent of all immigrant detainees. And 14 percent of phone calls placed to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) telephone hotline — which handles sexual abuse allegations — went unanswered.

The letter was co-signed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Robert Scott (D-VA), Howard Coble (R-NC), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ted Poe (R-TX).

Stronger protections would especially help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, who are most targeted for sexual abuse. According to a Center for American Progress report released on Monday, LGBT individuals, are at greater risk of sexual abuse and assault in detention centers. And immigrant inmates are also 15 times more likely to be assaulted than the general inmate population. Some individuals are placed in “administrative segregation,” colloquially known as solitary confinement, for upwards of 23 hours a day, because the purported rationale is that it keeps those individuals safe from the general population.

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