WASHINGTON -- Legal groups alleged this week that employees of a family immigration detention facility in Karnes City, Texas, harassed and sexually abused female detainees who had been caught crossing the border illegally.
The complaint, based on interviews with women in the Karnes City facility, alleges that at least three employees there engaged in harassment and abuse of female detainees. Some women were removed from their cells "for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts," according to the complaint. Employees promised women help and money in exchange for "sexual favors," the complaint says, and groped them in front of others. The groups allege that employees called detainees their "novias" and "girlfriends."
Detainees reported the harassment, but nothing happened, the complaint says, violating laws protecting those in detention. The complaint was sent Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, University of Texas Law School's Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics, and the law office of Javier N. Maldonado. They publicized the complaint on Thursday.
The Karnes City facility was converted to hold women and children in August after an influx of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had reduced their use of family immigrant detention in recent years, following complaints about previous facilities. But after tens of thousands of recent border apprehensions, ICE has been rapidly ramping up its capacity to hold families -- a practice immigration advocates say is unnecessary if there are alternatives to detention for the women and children.
"This is exactly why the federal government should not be in the business of detaining families,” Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement on Thursday. "These women and children have fled horrific conditions in their home countries, including sexual violence and extortion. Guards using their respective positions of power to abuse vulnerable, traumatized women all over again is not only despicable, it’s against the law."
The complaint requests that ICE immediately investigate and take action.
An ICE spokesman said the agency was unable to discuss ongoing investigations, but has implemented protections against sexual abuse in accordance with Prison Rape Elimination Act regulations.
"ICE remains committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner," the spokesman said in a statement. "ICE has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault and our facilities are maintained in accordance with applicable laws and policies. Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken."