Thousands Of Immigrants Report Sexual Abuse While In ICE Custody

From 2013 to 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported 1,310 claims of sexual abuse involving individuals in its custody. While this number is low given the fact that they detain almost half a million every year, the actual number of occurrences is likely much higher. Many who find themselves in the custody of ICE do not speak English, creating a barrier to their ability to report any crime committed against them, and because they are not U.S. citizens, they have no right to an attorney. This presents very real challenges if they did try to press charges against someone in the detention center or anyone who is a U.S. citizen. These two realities create a relationship between immigrants and detention officers that can leave an immigrant who is the victim of any crime while being detained by ICE feeling powerless.

The New York Times tells the story of Maria who fled Guatemala and was assaulted by a detention center guard named Donald Dunn. In May of 2010, she had spent over a month in the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Texas before being released on bond and told that she could live with her brother in Washington, D.C. while she waited on the results of her request for asylum. Dunn placed her into a cage that was in a van in the center’s loading area and began driving her off the detention center’s property. Eventually, however, he pulled over and ordered her out of the van. She described him groping her and touching himself while her hands were tied. New York Daily News reports that during transport, all detainees are supposed to have at least one member of the same sex present, but that requirement has been ignored by the Don Hutto center 77 times in the last year. Eight women ended up testifying against Dunn. He spent less than two years in jail for his crime.

A 19-year-old woman told the story of being assaulted in 2014 while at the Berks Family Residential Center. After she had been there a couple of months, Daniel Sharkey, an officer at the center, removed her clothes in the bathroom. He threatened her with deportation if she reported him, and she felt like she had to do whatever he ordered because she was “at a jail and he was a migration officer.” Sharkey suffered consequences only because a young girl witnessed the assault and reported it. He was fired and pleaded guilty to institutional sexual assault.