U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents allegedly sexually assaulted women or children immigrant detainees at least 35 times between 2012 and 2014, a CBS News investigation found. The rate of sexual misconduct within the CBP was “significantly” higher than in other federal law enforcement agencies, James Tomsheck, the agency’s former head of internal affairs, told CBS News.
“A problem that I believed was a significant and serious problem was perhaps even worse than I thought it was,” Tomsheck said. Tomscheck was assigned elsewhere within the agency last June and replaced with a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent “with orders to be more aggressive at investigating abuse cases.” Tomscheck stated that “after he brought this problem to light he was pressured to resign and retired early,” according to CBS News.
The CBP agency said that there have been 285 documented complaints or allegations of sexual misconduct since 2009, 44 of which are still pending. CBP also stated that the agency began adopting a “zero-tolerance policy” on sexual abuse and assault in March.
In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards to respond to sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities and establish a “zero tolerance standard” for rape and to protect immigrants in detention facilities from sexual abuse. Immigrants are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse because they’re in the custody of an agency that determines whether they can stay in or are deported from the United States, a Center of American Progress report stated.
But in its own investigation, CBS News found that between 2009 and 2015, “at least 21 customs or border patrol agents have been indicted or pleaded guilty to sexual offenses — both on and off duty — ranging from sexual assault, to possession of child pornography and child molestation. Five agents were arrested in the past year.” At least 15,000 agents were never given polygraphs when they were hired between 2006 and 2012, including individuals that Tomsheck said “had likely offended before but their acts have gone undetected.”
In a high-profile case last year, Esteban Manzanares, a Border Patrol agent who was one of the agents never given a polygraph, brutally assaulted and raped three female border crossers. Once FBI agents arrived outside his home, Manzanares took his own life. Another border agent allegedly sexually assaulted a child in March.
Various organizations have reported multiple allegations of sexual abuse complaints. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 215 allegations of sexual abuse and assault against immigrants in detention centers between October 2010 to March 2013. And a 2011 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit reported “185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security about sexual abuse in ICE custody, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas” since 2007. A January 2015 Department of Homeland Security report of 33 witnesses found no evidence of abuse at the Karnes Detention center, a family detention center that houses immigrant women and children, in Texas, but advocates are skeptical that “witnesses felt safe to speak without fear of reprisal in their asylum cases,” the New York Times reported.
It’s unclear whether the border agency has properly punished its agents for mistreating immigrant detainees. The American Immigration Council (AIC) reported last year that the CBP’s internal affairs office took “no action” in 97 percent of complaints filed through nine southwestern sectors between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years. While there were 809 formal complaints filed against the CBP agency, 329 cases were still being investigated. But of the remaining 485 complaints, 472 cases resulted in “no action taken” while a mere 13 cases resulted in some form of disciplinary action like counseling, court proceedings against the perpetrator, oral reprimand, or a written report.