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Alleged Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention Centers

Posted by Matthew Green | Oct 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

We have reported on a number of complaints alleging terrible conditions in the nation's immigration detention centers.  But now, a complaint filed by an immigrant advocacy group has alleged guards and staff have been sexually abusing women at the Texas family detention center.

The Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas is a 530-plus bed facility has been used to house immigrant families since August of 2014.  While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has held the facility as a model for humane detention facilities, it now faces allegations that guards and staff have sexually abused the detainees.

In a complaint filed last month by, among others, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), attorneys have alleged, “substantial, ongoing sexual abuse,” at the Karnes County detention facility. Women have reported being removed from their cells in exchange for sexual favors, and being groped in front of children.

According to Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with MALDEF, guards that have been, “using their respective positions of power to abuse vulnerable, traumatized women all over again is not only despicable, it's against the law.”

The lawyers have said the for-profit prison staff have tried to cover up the abuse, but calling the detainee women “girlfriends,” when requesting sexual favors in exchange for promises of help with their upcoming immigration cases, or offers of money or shelter after release.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that they take these types of allegations seriously.  Nina Pruneda, a DHS and ICE public affairs spokesperson has said, “ICA has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault,” and that these accusations are, “investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken.”

The private for-profit prison company which runs carnes, Geo Group, has denied these allegations. Together with Corrections Corporation of America's (CCA) latest planned detention center, a 2,400 bed immigration detention center set for Dilley, Texas, thousands of immigrant parents and children could be housed in a detention system stretching all the way to Pennsylvania.  The conditions in these prison-like facilities for families and children continue to be criticized.  The latest allegations of sexual abuse heightens these concerns.

Immigration advocates have said this type of abuse is pervasive.  The staff is overwhelmingly male, and have unrestricted access to the facilities housing the hundreds of women and children.  The lawyers in this case have alleged at least three Karnes Center employees have engaged in this conduct.  Two detainees have allegedly witnessed and reported these activities, and detailed this in reports to facility staff.

Part of the lawsuit is based upon the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was passed by Congress to detect, prevent, and respond to the problem of sexual abuse of inmates in the custody of US correctional agencies.  This Act also applies to immigrant detention centers, including those facilities in Karnes, Texas and Artesia, New Mexico.

According to Barbara Hines, of the University of Texas Immigration Clinic, “the government has no business detaining vulnerable mothers and children that it cannot protect from this type of abuse.”

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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