According to a complaint filed in August with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General by a Texas-based advocacy group, guards in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in El Paso, Tex., have been sexually assaulting detainees and intimidating them from coming forward. This is part of a larger pattern and practice of abuse in immigration detention centers throughout the state of Texas. Meanwhile, the federal government has done nothing to prevent the sexual assault of those detained and is not providing victims with the support services that are required by law.
Sexual assault and abuse common in Texas detention
According to an undocumented woman who was detained in an El Paso ICE detention facility, several of the guards where she was being held assaulted her on different occasions. They deliberately chose a spot between the medical facility and her barrack to attack her because of its lack of visibility on security cameras. The 35-year-old mother, who faced deportation to Mexico the very next week, was told by one of her abusers that if she told anyone about the assault, she wouldn’t be believed because her abuser was a high-ranking officer and there was no existing video footage to prove her claim.
In a telephone interview with ProPublica, the woman expressed that she would rather be deported to Mexico than spend another day in the torturous conditions of the ICE detention center. She was terrified of being targeted by the guards for coming forward about the abuse. “It’s going to get worse now,” she said. “I can’t handle it anymore.” Her deportation, however, meant that future investigators would be deprived of a key witness to the guards’ abuse.
In the days following this revelation of sexual abuse in El Paso, two more women who were being held in the facility came forward to say they had been assaulted by guards. One Salvadoran woman who was detained for three months said that guards regularly tried to entice her to, in their words, “fool around” with them by offering clean soap or clean uniforms in exchange. According to her, “most women who are still there are scared of saying anything. You don’t know what [the guards] can do.” Male detainees have been subjected to sexual harassment by their captors as well. One male detainee in El Paso reported that an officer stared at him while making lewd and obscene gestures. After reporting the officer, the man was placed in solitary confinement for attempting to have the guard held accountable.
Across the state of Texas, women have been brutalized, beaten and deported before they were able to testify against their abusers. One such incident occurred at the CoreCivic-run Houston Processing Center in North Houston on June 1, 2018. According to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Southern District of Texas Court against CoreCivic, one of the country’s largest private prison companies, a woman from Mexico along with two other women, “were removed from the general detainee population and taken to a dark cell in an isolated area of the facility. … Around midnight, three men entered the isolated cell and brutally attacked and sexually assaulted Plaintiff and the two other women. Just hours later, all three women — injured and still shaken from the attack — were placed on a bus and deported to Mexico.”
After arriving in Mexico, the woman who brought forth the lawsuit soon discovered she was pregnant as a result of being raped. Her attorney believes it was no coincidence that the women were made the target of this heinous attack on the eve of their deportation. The fact that they were about to be deported made them particularly vulnerable because legal recourse is more difficult once they are out of the country.
ICE fails to hold abusers accountable
According to ProPublica, ICE imprisons around 50,000 immigrants each year at a cost of nearly $2.7 billion. While the agency claims to have “zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or assault against individuals” and that “appropriate action” is always taken regarding abuse allegations, the facts do not bear this out. In 2018, there were at least 374 sexual assault allegations investigated by ICE, with only 48 of them being “substantiated by the agency” and another 29 left pending as of that year. Between 2010 and 2016, there were 14,700 sexual abuse complaints lodged against the agency. Only a handful were ever investigated by the Office of Inspector General, according to data obtained by Freedom for Immigrants.
U.S. imperialism must be brought to an end
Many of the men, women and children who are being victimized in ICE detention centers across the United States have been forced to flee their home countries due to U.S.-backed coups, sanctions or interventions, which have ravaged their places of birth. They’ve had to flee U.S.-backed violence in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala only to be met with violent imprisonment and sexual assault by ICE agents upon reaching the United States. Ending U.S. imperialism and exploitation on behalf of corporate interests is vital to ending the abuses of ICE and the criminalization of immigration. The U.S. military and corporations freely cross borders to maximize profits and exploit the world’s resources on behalf of empire. Fleeing U.S.-initiated violence is not a crime. The time to abolish ICE and grant full amnesty to all immigrants and asylum seekers is now.