ICE Guards “Systematically” Sexually Assault Detainees in an El Paso Detention Center, Lawyers Say — ProPublica


Summary generated on August 14, 2020

    Guards in an immigrant detention center in El Paso sexually assaulted and harassed inmates in a "Pattern and practice" of abuse, according to a complaint filed by a Texas advocacy group urging the local district attorney and federal prosecutors to conduct a criminal investigation.

    The allegations, detailed in a filing first obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, maintain that guards systematically assaulted at least three people in a facility overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement - often in areas of the detention center not visible to security cameras.

    The guards told victims that no one would believe them because footage did not exist and the harassment involved officers as high-ranking as a lieutenant.

    According to the complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General and shared with prosecutors, several guards "Forcibly" kissed and touched the intimate parts of at least one woman.

    Since the complaint was filed Wednesday, two more women, including one who is currently detained in the El Paso facility and one who was previously held there, have come forward with abuse allegations.

    At least one other woman was deported after a guard assaulted her, detainees told lawyers.

    An El Paso County District Attorney's Office spokesperson said that the agency had forwarded "Potentially criminal allegations" to the DHS' Office of Inspector General, which did not respond to emails seeking comment.

    A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas said that it had received the complaint and takes allegations of "Misconduct by public officials extremely seriously."

    A spokesperson for ICE wrote in an email that the agency was aware of the accusations and that they would be investigated, including by its Office of Professional Responsibility.

    ICE has "Zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in the agency's custody and takes very seriously all allegations of employee misconduct," the spokesperson wrote.

    A spokesperson for Global Precision Systems, a subsidiary of Bering Straits Native Corporation, which contracts with ICE to run the El Paso facility, wrote in an email that she could not comment on pending legal matters.

    The El Paso allegations are the latest instance of sexual abuse complaints related to detention centers run by ICE, which imprisons about 50,000 immigrants across the country each year - mostly through contractors at a taxpayer expense of almost $2.7 billion.

    About 14,700 complaints alleging sexual and physical abuse were lodged against ICE between 2010 and 2016, according to federal data obtained by the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants.

    Most recently, in a May federal court filing in Houston, a Mexican woman said that she was in an ICE facility there in 2018 when she and two female detainees were moved to an isolated cell.

    A spokesperson for the company overseeing that detention center, CoreCivic, denied the allegations, calling them "Slanderous." The woman's attorney, Michelle Simpson Tuegel, said the pregnancy aligns with the woman's stay in ICE detention.

    The El Paso accusations that are the subject of this latest complaint to authorities came to light when one of the women, a 32-year-old Salvadoran, was released because of a medical condition and told an attorney that she feared for the detainees still there.

    The Salvadoran woman told Corchado that she was detained in the El Paso facility for about three months where she was repeatedly harassed.

    A male detainee, a legal permanent resident convicted of money laundering, said that an officer in the detention center stared at him while rubbing his genitals as he showered in July, according to the complaint.

    The woman who remains in the El Paso detention center and is set to be deported is a 35-year-old mother from Mexico who was charged with a drug-related crime and illegally entering the country.

    During her 11 months in the ICE facility, she told lawyers that two guards assaulted her.