February 26, 2018

Castro, Doggett Seek Accountability for Detention Center Sexual Assault & Abuse

Washington, D.C.–Today, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) and Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) urged the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency to take immediate action to eradicate sexual assault and abuse in its detention centers. Their letter, which was joined by more than 40 colleagues, requests ICE officials to direct an investigation into its handling of sexual assault cases in Texas immigration detention facilities, share the results of this investigation with Members of Congress, and conduct an expedited Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) audit of T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, where Laura Monterrosa, a 23-year old asylum seeker from El Salvador allegedly faced retaliation from ICE guards after filing a complaint of repeated sexual abuse by a female guard. The full letter is here and included below.

“Complaints of sexual abuse by guards and subsequent retaliation by ICE following victim grievances are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Congressman Doggett. “Many of these victims are refugees seeking asylum, fleeing prior traumatic experiences. Basic human decency requires that they not be abused here. Our questions are designed to ensure some accountability for these disturbing allegations of sexual and physical abuse. ICE should respect and protect immigrants’ human rights.”

“Allegations of sexual harassment at ICE and the ways in which the agency refuses to deal with it are deeply disturbing. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of any magnitude is unacceptable, especially for vulnerable immigrants who, oftentimes, are already fleeing traumatic circumstances,” said Congressman Castro. “That’s why it is imperative to investigate the handling of these complaints and audit ICE’s compliance with the law. ICE has a duty to care for all individuals in their charge, and lawmakers must hold them accountable to carrying out this mission.”

Current co-signers of the letter included Zoe Lofgren, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutiérrez, Filemon Vela Jr., Vicente González, Juan Vargas, Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jan Schakowsky, Gene Green, Salud Carbajal, Nanette Barragán, Mike Quigley, Barbara Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Adriano Espaillat, Ann McLane Kuster, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Pramila Jayapal, Norma Torres, Jared Polis, Darren Soto, Donald McEachin, Ruben Gallego, Grace Napolitano, Lucille Roybal-Allard, José E. Serrano, Dina Titus, André Carson, Antonio Cárdenas, Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, James McGovern, Beto O’Rourke, Jimmy Gomez, Ro Khanna, Albio Sires, Judy Chu, Grace Meng, Nydia M. Velázquez, Frank Pallone Jr., Ben Ray Luján, and Jose Luis Correa.

This request for action has been endorsed by Grassroots Leadership, ACLU, Human Rights Watch, United We Dream, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Detention Watch Network, RAICES, National Immigrant Justice Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, and Pangea Legal Services, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Mexican American Legislative Caucus (Texas State Legislature), and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, said: "In this time of national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, we must ensure that justice is served to those like Laura Monterrosa, who has courageously spoken out about sexual abuse inside the for-profit T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. No one should be subject to the appalling treatment that Laura has experienced while detained for nine months. We applaud these Congressional representatives for taking leadership on this issue.  ICE must act swiftly to address the series issues raised in this letter, and should release Ms. Monterrosa immediately while the federal criminal investigation into her assault continues."

Mary Small, Police Director for Detention Watch Network, said: “The track record of abuse in detention is long-standing, well documented and overwhelming. It is unacceptable that ICE has continued to evade accountability for sexual abuse in detention. This attempt to silence a survivor betrays fundamental values, and signals a worrying indifference to this problem inside of the agency. We welcome this intervention by Members of Congress and encourage all signatories to continue to pursue these recommendations and justice for those who have suffered abuse.”

“For too long, ICE has been permitted to evade accountability, despite ample documentation of its inability to ensure the safety and health of the tens of thousands of immigrants in its custody,” said National Immigrant Justice Center Associate Director of Policy Diane Eikenberry. “These extremely concerning allegations of sexual abuse throughout ICE’s detention system stem from a culture of secrecy and imp unity that values corporate profits over the well-being, safety and dignity of people and their communities.”

“Human Rights Watch has investigated sexual abuse in prisons, leading to the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and we have released several reports documenting dangerous and rights-violating conditions in immigration detention,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, advocacy director for the US Program of Human Rights Watch. “HRW believes it is critical for ICE to implement safeguards for detainees in their care to prevent sexual abuse in immigration detention.”

"Ms. Monterrosa's case is not an outlier," said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). " For example, people who speak out often face retaliation in the form of solitary confinement, physical and psychological violence, transfers far away from family and legal support, and even deportation. By not properly investigating each allegation of sexual assault, our government sends a clear message that it not only tolerates the sexual abuse of immigrants, but it also maintains an environment for it to thrive with impunity."

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said, “Many LGBTQ immigrants in detention came to this country seeking safety from life threatening prosecution only to be indefinitely detained and revictimized by ICE. ICE's PREA efforts have so far failed to produce meaningful change and real accountability to ensure no one is abused in ICE custody. We will continue to call for real accountability for what goes on in ICE detention centers and an end to the detention of vulnerable immigrants.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and copied below:

Thomas D. Homan                                                                  Claire Trickler-McNulty

Deputy Director                                                                      Assistant Director, ODPP

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement                        U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th St., SW                                                                     500 12th St., SW
Washington, D.C. 20536                                                        Washington, D.C. 20536

Dear Deputy Director Homan and Acting Assistant Director Trickler-McNulty:

We write to express our concern regarding the prevalence of reports of sexual assault and abuse in Texas immigration detention facilities overseen by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its final standards on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), DHS mandates that each immigration detention facility undergo an audit once in the three-year period following July 6, 2015, and each three-year period thereafter.[1] Under PREA, immigration facilities must investigate and discipline those who engage in sexual assault and abuse, collect and review data, as well as comply with audits and other state regulations. Many Texas immigration detention facilities have never undergone this audit.[2]

Of particular concern is PREA compliance at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center (Hutto) in Taylor, Texas. Laura Monterrosa, a 23-year-old asylum seeker from El Salvador, first came forward to file a complaint alleging repeated sexual abuse by a female guard at Hutto, where she has been held since May. After Ms. Monterrosa filed her complaint, two more female detainees came forward with similar allegations. She alleges that she has faced retaliation from ICE guards and pressure to retract her allegation, along with solitary confinement for up to 60 hours at a time in recent weeks. DHS standards dictate that “The agency may require an expedited audit if the agency has reason to believe that a particular facility may be experiencing problems relating to sexual abuse” (§ 115.93 Audits of standards). At Hutto alone, between 2007 and 2011, at least five detainees reportedly filed similar complaints of sexual abuse. We believe Hutto meets this standard. 

Further, we worry about allegations of sexual abuse in detention centers across Texas, as outlined by many of our colleagues in Congress in a 2017 letter and by the Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).[3] One especially egregious example is of a child at Karnes County Residential Center who showed indications of vaginal scarring and a sexually transmitted disease; ICE declared the allegation of sexual assault was unfounded. CIVIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that revealed that the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (OIG) received more than 1,000 reports of sexual abuse from people in detention from May 2014 – July 2016.[4] The OIG investigated merely 24, or 2.4%, of these reports. CIVIC asserts that in Texas, between 2010 and 2016, there have been 2,558 complaints of sexual and physical abuse against ICE, resulting in only 28 investigations.[5] It is alarming to note that in OIG’s December 2017 report, “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities,” did not address sexual abuse at all.[6]

In light of our concerns and the history of sexual abuse allegations in ICE facilities, we urge you to:

(1)   Direct an investigation of ICE’s handling of sexual assault cases in Texas immigration detention facilities,

(2)   Share the results of the above investigation with the undersigned Members of Congress, and

(3)   Conduct an expedited PREA audit, as soon as possible, of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas.[7] 

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to ensuring that all ICE detention centers, and their employees, follow established laws and guidelines to ensure human rights are upheld in Texas.



[1] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-03-07/pdf/2014-04675.pdf

[2] https://www.ice.gov/prea


[4] http://www.endisolation.org/sexual-assault



[7] Per §115.93 Audits of standards