Report: DHS ONLY Investigates 1% Of Sexual Assaults In Immigration Detention Centers

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Thirty-six men shared Douglas Menjivar’s pod inside Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, where he was locked up with other immigrants waiting for courts to review his asylum claim.

The burly mechanic had been in Corley about three months when he says he was jumped in the middle of the night – raped by one violent offender as another watched in the worst of two attacks in September and October 2013. After the second incident, he ran and fell hard, hitting his head. A 2-inch scar remains visible beneath his close-cropped hair.

Menjivar and his former attorney, Afton Izen, say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did little to investigate the alleged assaults – though he reported them on two different occasions. At first, they say, an ICE supervisor called him “stupid” and left him in the pod with his attackers.
Ultimately, in an internal affairs review, ICE’s own deportation and detention agents concluded there was insufficient evidence to support Menjivar’s allegations, according to a one-page letter of response to his complaint delivered on Feb. 20, 2015 by his deportation officer. Greg Palmore, a Houston-based ICE spokesman, confirmed an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility  “did not corroborate the allegation.”

Nationwide, ICE holds about 40,000 immigrants, 60 percent of whom are housed in for-profit prisons like Corley. ICE claims it closely monitors conditions inside all government facilities and private detention centers and even offers a sexual assault hot line. Customs and Border Patrol has additional detention facilities at ports of entry.

Menjivar’s case, activists say, is part of a broader pattern that shows that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, as well as ICE and CBP, have not done enough to protect isolated detainees from sexual assaults and abuse – or to investigate complaints that flood into the OIG every year. His case and others are included in a civil rights complaint filed this week by the California-based non-profit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement that seeks more accountability and reforms.

“I think the people who experience assault in detention centers are stuck in a really tough place because on the one hand if they report they fear reprisals from the perpetrators,” said Orlando Lara, a Houston-based activist who has worked with local detainees. “Not only does ICE ignore these claims, it doesn’t provide them with any type of protection when they do make these reports other than putting them in solitary confinement, which is more a form of punishment for speaking than protection.”

1 percent investigated

Nationally, 33,126 complaints were filed against DHS agencies involving alleged assaults, abuse and sexual assault against immigrants in custody between January 2010 and July 2016. But only 247 complaints – about 1 percent – were formally investigated by the agency’s OIG, according to public records obtained from DHS as part of the non-profit’s complaint.

 

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