Sexual abuse and harassment are chronic issues at ICE immigration detention facilities

DHS and ICE documents indicate that inside immigration detention facilities, sexual assault and abuse are chronic issues that largely go uninvestigated.

The US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) noted that at ICE detention centers “inadequately addresses staff misconduct regarding sexual assault and abuse.”1 A recent review of documents obtained by The Intercept through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) found that between 2010 and 2017 there were more than “1224 complaints revealing a staggering pattern of sexual abuse” occurring in ICE immigration detention.2 While ICE claims it investigates all reports of abuses, two years after the filing of the FOIA request DHS OIG indicated investigations of only 43, a mere 3.5%, of the of the 1224 complaints. Of the 1224 complaints reviewed by The Intercept, 59% identified an ICE officer or private prison contractor as the perpetrator of the allegation. In 34% of the complaints, an officer directly observed the alleged abuse or was made aware of it, while 22% of the complaints identified an officer as the perpetrator and at least one other officer as a witness.

One individual detained at OCPC reported being repeatedly sexually harassed by MTC staff for being gay. The harassment was so bad, the individual requested transfer to another detention facility.3 This individual since won asylum, meaning that an immigration judge found his claim of past persecution, which stemmed in part from his sexual orientation, both credible and real. This means that the individual fled bona fide persecution, in matters related to his orientation, only to be confined for months at OCPC, often in solitary, and repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of MTC staff. Research indicates that there are significant and profound psychological consequences for incarcerating a persecuted individual.4

Multiple African asylum seekers detained at OCPC report that when they are showering, MTC guards, and particularly female guards, leer and ogle at their bodies. These detained individuals also receive unwanted comments and suggestions from staff. All these detained individuals are devout Christians. They made formal complaints regarding sexual harassment and an investigation was undertaken. The detained individuals report that investigators only spoke to the most-timid and least well-spoken individual of the group, a person who stutters. This was a serious concern for the multiple articulate and well-spoken individuals who experienced the brunt of the offenses but were not consulted by investigators. The cursory and superficial nature of the investigation casts serious doubt on whether inspectors got to the bottom of the issue, a pattern that is consistent with both USCCR’s findings and the investigation by The Intercept.

It is time to end the expansion of immigration detention and initiate immediate independent unannounced inspection of ICE detention facilities in New Mexico. HB624 the Rubio-Maestas Immigration Detention Facilities Act accomplishes both of these goals.

Please sign on in support of HB624 the Rubio-Maestas Immigration Detention Facilities Act.

  1. USCCR. “With Liberty and Justice for All: The State of Civil Rights at Immigration Detention Facilities.” A Briefing Before the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Statutory Enforcement Report. Washington D. C.: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2015.
  2. Alice Speri, “Detained, Then Violated: 1,224 Complaints Reveal a Staggering Pattern of Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention. Half of Those Accused Worked for ICE.,” The Intercept (blog), April 11, 2018,
  3. Craig, Nathan, and Margaret Brown Vega. “‘Why Doesn’t Anyone Investigate This Place?’: Complaints Made by Migrants Detained at the Otero County Processing Center, Chaparral, NM Compared to Department of Homeland Security Inspections and Reports.” El Paso, TX: Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC) and Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), 2018.
  4. Zachary Steel and Derrick M. Silove, “The Mental Health Implications of Detaining Asylum Seekers.,” The Medical Journal of Australia 175, no. 11–12 (2001): 596–99; Tania Storm and Marianne Engberg, “The Impact of Immigration Detention on the Mental Health of Torture Survivors Is Poorly Documented–a Systematic Review,” Danish Medical Journal 60, no. 11 (November 2013): A4728; Trine Filges et al., “The Impact of Detention on the Health of Asylum Seekers,” Campbell Systematic Reviews (Denmark: The Campbell Collaboration, 2015),; T. Storm and M. Engberg, “The Impact of Immigration Detention on the Mental Health of Torture Survivors: A Systematic Review,” European Psychiatry 28 (January 2, 2013): 1–1,; Katy Robjant, Rita Hassan, and Cornelius Katona, “Mental Health Implications of Detaining Asylum Seekers: Systematic Review,” British Journal of Psychiatry 194, no. 04 (April 2009): 306–12,; Mary Bosworth, “The Impact of Immigration Detention on Mental Health: A Literature Review,” Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper (London: Oxford University, 2016),