SAN DIEGO (AP) – An advocacy group said Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog fielded more than 1,000 complaints of sexual assault or sexual abuse from people in custody in a little more than two years.
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement is the latest group in recent years to document allegations of abuse at immigration detention centers, based on information obtained from public records requests. It comes as President Donald Trump seeks to expand detention capacity in a drive to deport more people.
The numbers obtained by the group don’t provide details on individual cases or a full accounting of how the complaints were addressed, but they suggest complaints are common.
Homeland Security inspector general’s office disclosed that it received 1,016 complaints from detainees reporting sexual abuse or assault from May 2014 to July 2016. More than 90 percent involved Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within Homeland Security that has more than 30,000 beds at detention facilities nationwide.
The inspector general received more than 33,000 allegations of a broader range of abuses from January 2010 to July 2016, including 702 for coerced sexual contact, 714 for physical or sexual abuse and 589 for sexual harassment, according to the group. The group’s analysis showed the inspector general investigated 247, or less than 1 percent. But it was unclear how many others were taken up by agencies in the department, such as Immigration and Customs and Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection.
The group cited the numbers in a complaint to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly that urges changes in how allegations are handled.
Gillian Christensen, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said the number of investigations by the inspector general don’t provide a complete account because the office refers most complaints to the agency within the department that is directly involved. She had no immediate comment on other aspects of the report.
The group said it independently documented 27 alleged instances of sexual abuse. Most haven’t filed grievances because they fear retaliation.
Douglas Menjivar was allegedly raped by another detainee in the presence of four witnesses at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas, in September 2013. The group says an official told him that he was stupid to let it happen and that the facility didn’t document Menjivar’s claim or provide medical or psychological care. Menjivar reported the incident to a doctor in November 2014, and after being interviewed twice, authorities told him that his allegations were unsubstantiated.
An official at an immigration detention center at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania allegedly threated to rape Rosanna Santos and another woman in March 2013 if they didn’t follow his instructions. The group says Santos’ request for counseling was denied.
The group also published figures, obtained from a records request by Human Rights Watch, that show private companies contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement had the most hotline complaints of sexual and physical assault from Oct. 1, 2012 to March 14, 2016, as opposed to centers managed by the agency. Detention centers managed by The Geo Group Inc. occupied first, third and fourth slots with facilities in Jena, Louisiana; Adelanto, California; and Tacoma, Washington. CCA Inc. facilities in Houston and San Diego occupied the second and fifth slots.
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