DHS statement on reports of sexual abuse at immigration detention centers

U.S. Department of Human Services

The Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will review the letter and underlying report once they receive it to determine if further action or recommendations are warranted.

Unfortunately, the report just released by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) regarding purported sexual abuse and sexual harassment at ICE and CBP facilities is grossly inaccurate. During the six-year timeframe covered by this report, ICE, for instance, recorded more than two million admissions to its detention facilities nationwide. While ICE’s goal is to prevent all sexual abuse among its custody population, given the volume of individuals who annually pass through its detention system, the agency believes the overall incidence of such activity is very low.

While the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) may choose to investigate any allegation, the OIG generally focuses on cases involving alleged employee misconduct. Incidents involving detainee on detainee abuse are typically referred directly to ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for follow-up. In situations where there is no criminal allegation, OPR may refer the matter to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Administrative Inquiry Unit (AIU). In those instances where a sexual abuse allegation is substantiated, prompt and appropriate action will be taken to address the situation and prevent any recurrence.

DHS is firmly committed to providing for the safety and welfare of all those in its custody.  US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a zero tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault and is ICE is committed to safety and security in all of its detention and holding facilities.  ICE maintains a Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention (SAAPI) Program that ensures effective procedures for preventing, reporting, responding to, investigating, and tracking incidents or allegations of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in ICE detention.

ICE provides detainees and their attorneys, family, friends, and associates multiple ways to report sexual abuse, retaliation for reporting sexual abuse, or staff neglect or violations of responsibilities that may have contributed to such incidents. Third parties not connected to a detainee can also report these allegations. Reports are confidential and may be made anonymously, both verbally and in writing.

ICE in particular has taken significant steps in recent years to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse involving its detainee population. These measures include:

  • Issuing an agency-wide directive on sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention;
  • Strengthening the safeguards against sexual abuse and assault of detainees in ICE’s detention standards; 
  • Hiring a sexual assault prevention coordinator; providing comprehensive sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention training for all ICE employees who have contact with detainees;
  • Creating an agency working group on sexual abuse in detention;
  • Establishing a community and detainee helpline;
  • Establishing a methodology and process for conducting audits of sexual abuse and assault safeguards at ICE detention and holding facilities. ICE began auditing its facilities in Fiscal Year 2017. 

— Statement courtesy of Gillian Christensen, acting DHS press secretary