Immigration

More Detention Abuse Highlights the Need for Federal Immigration Oversight

Reports of prisoner abuse have prompted disciplinary action and calls for stricter regulatory policies.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is investigating allegations of sexual assault by a guard in one of their facilities on female detainees. The detainees, on their way to be deported, were groped while being patted down and at least one was propositioned for sex, according to ICE officials. The guard in question has been fired, and ICE is pursuing additional remedies against him, including preventing the guard from obtaining future federal employment. This case, however, is just the latest reminder of what happens in a detention system with little to no Federal oversight.

Disturbingly, the employee was not following ICE policies during the time of the alleged crimes. The facility where the guard was based, T. Don Hutto, is located in Taylor, Texas, and is managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). ICE has put CCA on probation pending the outcome of the investigation. ICE also demanded changes from CCA—including not allowing male guards to be alone with female detainees.

Sadly, the Hutto facility, which houses only female detainees, has been held up by ICE as a “a clear departure from historical detention settings…residents experience expanded services that include free and open movement, recreational and educational participation, food services, and medical and mental health care.”

Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership’s Texas Campaign Coordinator stated that “this incident illustrates the inherent problems in an immigration detention system with no meaningful oversight.” The National Immigrant Justice Center has called for the following reforms:

  • Halt deportations until the investigation of the Hutto assault is closed so that witnesses and victims can be identified
  • Release potential victims from detention and connect them with NGOs which can provide necessary support and social services
  • End the unnecessary detention of individuals who are not dangers to the community
  • Improve national detention standards to ensure that detainees are treated humanely, and codify those standards in law to ensure they are enforced
  • Implement the Prison Rape Elimination Standards, which were created to protect all detainees from sexual assault and rape
  • Create effective mechanisms for oversight of all detention facilities and staff

Still, questions remain concerning ICE’s culpability. Jacki Esposito, policy coordinator for Detention Watch Network, stated that such incidences are “inevitable” when you combine our sprawling detention system and the lack of oversight. Similar incidents occurred in 2007 and 2008, implicating another CCA employee as well as a former Port Isabel detention officer.

In a recent report, the IPC commended ICE for ceasing to use the Hutto facility for family detention, but also warned that DHS and ICE must work hard to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Other recent follies include the leaked ICE memo requiring ICE officers to meet deportation quotas, as well as cover-ups concerning deaths in detention. While cultural transition takes time, mistakes like these are wholly unacceptable.

Travis Packer writes for ImmigrationImpact.com, the blog of the Immigration Policy Center
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