The U.S. government will investigate allegations of violent sexual abuse of immigrants at detention facilities under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center said Friday.
The probe, to be carried out by the Government Accountability Office, was spurred by complaints the NIJC filed on behalf of 17 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants, the center’s executive director, Mary Meg McCarthy, said.
Those complains were cited by 30 members of Congress in a letter to GAO requesting the investigation.
“We hope the GAO investigation will force President (Barack) Obama to reckon with the human rights disaster that the immigration detention system has become,” McCarthy said in a statement released by the NIJC.
“The administration must take immediate steps to end these abuses, including applying the Prison Rape Elimination Act to DHS immigration detention facilities,” she said.
Expected to take effect this year, that law requires officials to investigate allegations of sexual assault behind bars, work to prevent such activity and protect people who report sexual violence.
The NIJC says that while Congress intended the act to protect all prisoners in the United States, “the Obama administration has refused to apply it to the immigration detention system.”
The administration’s position leaves some 400,000 people in the immigration detention system - including minors, refugees and asylum seekers - vulnerable to sexual aggression, according to the NIJC.
Lawmakers asked the GAO “to conduct a detailed audit of immigration detention facilities to examine the incidence of sexual violence, identify what steps DHS is taking to rectify the problem, and suggest actions that would eliminate sexual violence from the immigration detention system.”
“Sexual violence is pervasive in America’s prisons and jails,” the NIJC said, citing a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch that detailed numerous allegations of sexual abuse specifically in immigration detention facilities.
Based on the HRW report, the NIJC filed in April 2011 a mass civil rights complaint on behalf of sexual minorities in immigration detention, including several people who suffered abuse while in DHS custody.