Legislators Call for Investigations Into Assault Claims in Immigrant Detention; OIG Inspections Reveal Troubling Immigrant Detention Conditions

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Monday, a group of more than 70 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter urging federal officials to investigate sexual assault claims in immigrant detention facilities.

The letter cited a civil rights complaint filed in April by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), which states that between January 2010 and July 2016, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the US Department of Homeland Security received more than 33,000 “complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse” involving “DHS component agencies” within immigration detention facilities. The OIG investigated just 225 of the abuse complaints, according to CIVIC.

Immigrants held in detention filed the most complaints (44.4 percent) against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, followed by Customs and Border Protection (31.1 percent).

Of the more than 1,000 sexual abuse or assault complaints filed by detainees between May 28, 2014 and July 12, 2016, the OIG only opened investigations into 24 complaints.

In their letter, the legislators called on federal officials to launch a special OIG committee to look for PREA violations within immigrant detention facilities.

The lawmakers also called for a special committee from the US Department of Justice to conduct a pattern or practice investigation into sexual assault in these detention facilities.

In addition, DHS should compile and publicly release data on the complaints (while maintaining confidentiality), including the outcomes of the investigations conducted, the lawmakers said.

Finally, the letter blasted ICE’s request for permission to start regularly destroying records–including records about sexual assaults over the last two decades. The report urged the agency to either back off of the effort to destroy the records, or to make the records digital and release them to the public before destroying anything.

Sexual assault behind bars is “absolutely unacceptable,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the letter with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “We need an investigation, more oversight, and reform to ensure that we are protecting those in our care.”

A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s OIG found troubling conditions within immigrant detention facilities after conducting unannounced inspections at six lock-ups.

The OIG inspected two California facilities—Santa Ana City Jail, and Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County—as well as Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, Laredo Processing Center in Texas, Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, and Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.

At the Santa Ana jail, the OIG found that staff strip-searched all incoming detainees without reporting in the detainees’ individual files, and despite the fact that ICE’s 2008 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) say staff are not to strip-search those in custody without “specific and
articulable facts that would lead a reasonable officer to believe that a specific detainee is in possession of contraband.”

The Theo Lacy findings were detailed in a separate report released back in March. In the March audit, the OIG revealed that immigrant detainees held in Orange County’s Theo Lacy Facility were being served spoiled lunch meat, and were forced to use moldy showers.

Officers also reportedly misused segregation at the detention facilities. The inspectors found multiple instances in which detainees were disciplined using segregation or lock-down without guards documenting justification for the discipline. In one facility, a man was placed in lock-down for several days because he shared coffee with another detainee, according to the report.

“All ICE detainees are held in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not supposed to be punitive,” the OIG report stated. “ICE confines detainees administratively to process and prepare them for deportation.”

Yet, detainees also told the OIG that guards blocked or delayed grievances they tried to submit, or intimidated them so that they feared they would face retaliation if they complained.

The OIG found also improper food safety at several of the other facilities, besides Theo Lacy. “We observed spoiled, wilted, and moldy produce and other food in kitchen refrigerators, as well as food past its expiration date,” the report states. “We also found expired frozen food, including meat, and thawing meat without labels indicating when it had begun thawing or the date by which it must be used.”

At the Georgia lock-up, staff improperly housed detainees with criminal convictions with low-risk detainees, in violation of ICE’s detention standards.

Medical care was delayed days or even months for some immigrants at the Santa Ana jail and the Stewart facility, according to the report.

In addition, detainees at the Stewart and Otero facilities had to shower in bathrooms that had mold or peeling paint on walls, floors, and in the showers, the OIG found. A number of detainees at both the Hudson and Stewart lockups told the OIG that once they had run out of the initial basic hygiene supplies—toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo, etc.—replacements did not come quickly. Sometimes, detainees were told to buy their own supply from commissary, in violation of the ICE standards of care.

According to the OIG, the facilities were selected to be inspected based on complaints received by the OIG, as well as reports from immigrant rights groups and the media.

“ICE has a challenging and highly visible role in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws,” said Acting Inspector General John Kelly. “Just as important is ICE’s role in detaining and housing the undocumented persons it apprehends. Treatment of detainees in ICE facilities should be humane, adhere to all regulations and be above reproach.”


  • The quicker they are deported and the less time they spend is US detention facilities, means the less likely they can be subjected to these abuses.

    Simple risk management. Intercept and deter illegal immigrants at the boarders (land, sea, air) and expedite their return to their respective countries once they do make entry.

  • Great idea, Conspiracy! Why wasn’t that thought of before?? Oh, because that’s too simple, and WLA wouldn’t get to write these ridiculous articles… that make the liberals wet themselves.

    • I wonder why are learned politicians and elected officials don’t use common sense and reason to address problems everyday. KISS/MISS is often the most elegent solution, even for the most complex and convoluted problem…..which this “ain’t”.

      Sometimes when a problem gets so jumbled, you loose your place in attempt into solve it and you have to keep adding amnendments and corrections to fix the jumbled mess, the best thing to do is go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.

      Yesh, I know this concept is foreign to most politicians since it negates their power and their necessity on many levels. Hell…the legal profession wouldn’t exist without planned and ordered confusion.

  • Meanwhile, 52 illegals trying to cross into our country this year have been found dead by the Border patrol or people living in the area. Coyotes just leave the weak behind and a recent cold weather event killed 10. No big deal, this is way more important. No way these people are coached to make complaints for some payoff, nope that would never happen.

    • Why doesn’t anyone ever try to address the reasons these folks are fleeing their countries for in the first place. All the criticism being launched at the USA (because its has a Constitution tha allows protections) versus the countries these people are fleeing from is presumptious and misplaced.

      I don’t hear the presidents of Mexico, El Salvador or Guatamela crying tears for these illegal immigrants who feel life in their countries are so bad that they have to risk life and limb to flee. Where is the protest, moral outrage and criticsm of these countries policies or lack their off to protect their citizens.

      So stop placing the faux guilt trip on the US government and its citizens. The US and it’s citizens (not China, not Mexico, not the former Soviet Republics) are still the most generous and philanthropic when it comes to helping other countries and people of the world.

  • The headline said “immigrant” but the article is about “illegal immigrants.”

    If THAT brainwashed you into thinking the two are the same raise your hand.

  • AS usual, the learned gentlemen have the solutions and perspectives everyone missed. Why Conspiracy does not run for office with his great political acumen is beyond me. And, Free Rider, what are you doing reading “these ridiculous articles?” Admit it, this blog gives your petty life meaning. That and roughing up black kids.

    Surefire, you are correct with your math wizardry, 52 >1. So, what are these illegals complaining about, they should give the detention centers a pass, and complain about the coyotes. I think that was FW De Klerk’s argument, “we treat our blacks under apartheid better than they do elsewhere in Africa, they should be grateful,” or something like that. It did not work out for him, and it won’t for you.

    Conspiracy, as usual, your knowledge of foreign affairs is impressive. Perhaps if the US had not intervened in El Salvador and Guatemala’s affairs, and sent all those weapons and “advisors,” maybe there would not have been so many “illegals” from those countries. We pissed all over those countries, now we smell the stink, and you wonder why. And, your ass isn’t a source for facts on the generosity of nations. I’m not sure the US even makes the top 20 as a percentage of GDP. By you repeating that we are greatest country in the world, does not make it so. You’re one of those that proclaims that only in America can an Irishman become the mayor of Dublin. Stop it, already.

    To bad, Major Kong did not share his racist thoughts. He is always good for a chuckle. Merry Christmas, gentlemen. At least, Santa is still white.

  • Oh poor misguided and silly CF…

    Everyone’s a racist who gives a point contrary to yours and you still resort to juvenile insults and name calling. Very sad indeed.

    You again resort back to a typical liberal be talking point blaming the “US” for the ills of the world. So ridiculous. As you read these articles and comment, I have to remind myself your an outsider…a non-resident. Someone like you, with so much hate, disdain, repulsion and disgust for this country in no way could dare live here.

    So keep on spouting your propaganda and enjoy the freedoms (or lack thereof) of your homeland. I’m sure you couldn’t get away with criticizing your homeland the way you criticize the USA. If you are a resident…I wish you all the best when you immigrate to your new home in whatever remaining socialist communist enclave you can slither into. The only government remaining that is true to your “utopian ideology” is North Korea.

  • “this blog gives your petty life meaning”. Pretty epic lack of self awareness there cf. Gotta give you points for taking douchebaggery to the next level though. Wow

  • Conspiracy, no one is blaming this country for the ills of the world, although it is responsible for quite a few. And, the fact that I criticize my country does not mean I do not want to live here or that I should leave. It’s that redneck patriotism of yours -“love it or leave it” – that is fairly pathetic and a bit fascist. Your patriotism is the kind that believes this is the greatest country because you were born in it. Please.

    And, just to piss you off more, I am as much a citizen as you. There mere fact that I was born here, thanks to the 14th amendment, gives me the same rights as any hillbilly that can trace his roots to some Scot or Irishmen that came a 100 years ago with a bottle of whisky and a sack of potatoes. No more, but no less. The son of the “illegal alien” born here is a citizen. As is the son of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi graduate student who happened to be born here while his father was writing his thesis, is a citizen, just like you. Or, the kid of a Haitian mother in the US on TPS. Yes, a citizen just like you.

    And, socialist? For someone on the government dole, with a government pension, with government provided health insurance, you sure bitch a lot of the government. By the way, you have those benefit probably due to a bunch of socialist who fought for your work hours, your pension, your health insurance, your sick leave. How do you think they came about. It was not the capitalist fairy. Why don’t you show us what a great patriotic capitalist you are, and instead of bitching about Obamacare, give up your government provided health insurance.

    I’ll tell you want, when I pay my taxes this year, city of LA business taxes, if you are LAPD, or my County Property taxes, if you are Sheriff, or my income taxes, if you are ICE. I’ll chip in a few extra dollars to be allocated to that great pension you have and that I pay for. If for no other reason, you should be grateful this holiday season. And, so that he won’t get upset and go burn a cross somewhere, I chip in a few bucks for Major Kong, too. My gift to you fine men in uniform. Merry Christmas.

  • CF:. You failed to mention the 14th Amendment was passed in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The citizenship clause was in reference to children born here from Foreign Nationals having “legal” status in the United States. The clause was not intended as a response to “illegal immigration” and associated issues. The issue of children born here of parents without legal status has yet to be settled, but clearly was not the intent of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment. But you knew that already…right,?

  • CF:. Please continue to enjoy the “fruits” of American Citizenship. With the current conservative Supreme Court….the legality of children born here of parents without legal status may finally be ajudicated.

  • CF: Pretty weak response. Was hoping for something more intellectual…..I guess it’s hard to argue with facts. Maybe you can hop aboard the DACA train when the government takes away your “birth right” citizenship. Keep up the good work. You are a good “socialist” and make the ACLU proud!

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