HRC Blog

HRC Urges DHS to Apply Federal Sexual Abuse Standards to Immigration Detention Facilities

U.S. department of homeland securityIn 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the first federal statute with the explicit goal of addressing and reducing sexual assault in prisons, jails and other facilities where individuals are incarcerated. The law created a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which issued recommendations to the Attorney General on how to help address the problem of prison sexual assault, including with regard to vulnerable populations like the LGBT community. The Justice Department is in the process of developing regulations to implement the Commission’s recommendations. 

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has resisted efforts to apply the PREA standards to immigration detention facilities as well. The issue of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities is an urgent, ongoing problem, and LGBT people have been identified as among the most vulnerable in detention settings. The National Immigrant Justice Center has filed at least 17 complaints in recent months with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office of civil rights on behalf of LGBT detainees, many of whom were sexually abused in detention. The ACLU of Arizona recently issued a report that discussed the pattern of abuse and failure to protect LGBT people in immigration detention, and has also filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of one transgender woman abused at DHS’s Eloy, AZ detention center. Too often, these detainees are victimized by guards as well as by other detainees. Few resources are available to these victims and little is being done on a federal level to prevent and investigate this abuse. 

PREA was clearly meant to apply to immigration detention facilities. The bill’s bipartisan co-sponsors,  Reps. Frank Wolf and Robert C. Scott have clearly stated through letters and briefings that they intended PREA to be extended to these facilities. Despite this clear congressional intent and unambiguous statutory language, the Justice Department published proposed regulations limiting these protections to prisoners in federal, state, and local facilities—specifically excluding immigration detention facilities and leaving behind thousands of detained individuals. 

On November 30th, former Commissioners of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission submitted a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to work with the Justice Department to comply with the will of Congress and the recommendations of the Commission by recognizing application of the final PREA regulations to DHS facilities. HRC has worked alongside other human rights groups to demand the application of PREA to immigration detention facilities, and participated in a direct request to President Obama urging this implementation. 

We urge DHS to acknowledge that all immigrants in detention, regardless of where they are detained, are protected under PREA. The adoption of uniform PREA protections across federal agencies is indispensable to further elimination of prison rape and achieving the full purpose and mission of the Act.

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