Sexual assault of undocumented immigrants is on the rise. The average daily occupancy of detention centers rose from roughly 5,000-10,000 in 1994 to over 39,000 as of November 2017 while the population of undocumented immigrants hasn’t mirrored those numbers. In 1995,the estimated undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. was roughly 5.7 million, while in 2014, it was an estimated 11.1 million. I’ll do the math for you here,that works out to be about 17.5% of undocumented immigrants being held in detention centers in 1995, and 35.14% in 2014.
Leaving aside political affiliations and stances, no one deserves to be the victim of sexual assault. Being undocumented or an asylum seeker doesn’t warrant sexual violence, yet that’s exactly what was experienced and exhibited by the 1,224 complaints received by ICE from detainees between 2010 and 2017. This number is purported to be even higher by the Department of Homeland Security at an estimated total of over 33,000 reports of abuse within ICE detention centers between 2010 and 2016.
There are countless reasons why someone would want to emigrate from their home country, whether it be for asylum, work, education, or any other reason regardless of its legitimacy, however it is a very long and difficult process to receive documented residency. The solution for many immigrants is to immigrate without being documented. Countless cases of the trials and tribulations survived by immigrants have been recorded, as have the cases where they didn’t survive. Imagine traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach asylum or a safer place to live while being exposed to the elements, starving, drowning, and vigilante killings, just to arrive and be re-victimized.
Consent during any form of detention is a fairly simple and a black and white affair. According 79 Fed. Reg. 13100 § 3, any sexual contact with, voyeurism, harassment, or threats toward a detainee constitute sexual abuse or assault, consensual or not. We discussed consent a few weeks ago, where we determined that coercion and power imbalances prevent the ability to willingly consent, and ICE detention centers are a haunting example of massive power imbalances that result in systemic sexual assault.
These undocumented immigrants who are being detained within ICE facilities are very vulnerable. “Sexual abuse is an underreported crime everywhere, but it is especially so in detention, and exceptionally so in immigration detention,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake of Just Detention International,a group devoted to ending sexual violence in detention centers.“On top of feelings of shame and the victim-blaming that all survivors face, detainees who are sexually abused by staff are faced with the horrifying prospect of having to report the assault to their rapist’s colleagues and friends.”
ICE weaponizes sexual assault in cases such as 19-year-old E.D. a domestic violence survivor and asylum-seeker from Honduras who was the victim of sexual assault by an ICE employee while in a detention center after being coerced and threatened with deportation. Another instance is when Southwest Key, a contractor that detains migrant children ,failed to comply with background check requirements resulting in the hiring of three employees who were eventually arrested for the sexual assault of youth detainees. One of the employees who did not complete a background check allegedly sexually abused eight teenage boys while being HIV+ over a period of 11 months, another was convicted of the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old boy.
ICE claims to investigate every report of abuse, however the DHS Office of the Inspector General proved that to be false by providing the number 43 as the total number of investigations instigated by ICE based on sexual abuse reports from January 2010 to June 2017.Based on the 1,224 complaints provided by ICE, there is an approximate 3.51% chance of a report being investigated. Even solely considering the profoundly smaller quantity of reports that ICE alleges they receive, that statistic is disarming to say the least. Additionally, ICE filed a request in 2017 to be able to destroy and prevent the storage in the National Archives of their records regarding thesexual abuse and deaths of detainee, which were approved for not documenting significant actions of Federal Officials and having, “little or no research value.”
Sexual assault is being used as an assertion of power over detainees as a punishment for crossing the border without documentation. ICE is weaponizing sexual assault by teaching asylum seekers and other immigrants that if they attempt to enter theU.S. without documentation or in seeking said asylum, they should expect to be at risk for sexual assault.
Employees are taking advantage of the fact that detainees are unable to escape violent situations within the facility in order to maintain control and monopoly over the bodies of vulnerable immigrants. There is a clear distinction made by many ICE employees between undocumented immigrants and naturalized citizens when it comes to their autonomy and worth as people and how this line separates who these employees deem worthy of violence and those they do not.
Victims of sexual violence within ICE or other immigration detention centers have rights, and understanding and enforcing them is key to ending this systemic abuse.
“We have long had concerns about ICE being transparent with its data, especially how it relates to the detention of immigrants. Even more specifically as it pertains to the detention of vulnerable immigrants,” said Royce Bernstein Murray, policy director of the American Immigration Council. “The data is really important forus to understand what’s happening to the tens of thousands of people in custody every day.”
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, contact Koller Trial Law. Koller Trial Law offers free consultations.