DHS to Adopt New Rules on Immigration Detention Abuse

December 6, 2012

Immigrants detained in facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security are a step closer to having similar protections from sexual abuse as inmates in the U.S. prison system.

The DHS announced the new rules today for its detention facilities.

In May, the Justice Department finalized its rules to curb sexual abuse in federal and state detention facilities in accordance with the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. Those rules include tighter guidelines for hiring guards and a better system for reporting abuse.

But the act, which established a zero-tolerance standard for rape in prisons, didn’t apply to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigrant detention facilities. So that same day in May, in a presidential memorandum, President Barack Obama extended the act to include all federal agencies that oversee detention facilities, including the DHS.

The memorandum gave the agencies several months to propose their own guidelines for addressing sexual abuse.

The new DHS rules are “very, very similar” to what the DOJ had proposed for its jails and prisons, according to a senior administration official, speaking on background on a call to reporters to announce the rules.

They include more thorough background checks on guards, training for staff, bans on cross-gender searches, and require information be provided to detainees on how to report incidents to an independent body for investigation. The rules also dictate special assistance for detainees who aren’t fluent in English or have disabilities.

The DHS said it would also conduct regular audits of each detention facility and install managers at each facility to ensure compliance with the new rules. Under the new policies, DHS would only contract with companies that comply with the policies.

The new rules are set to be put in place after a two-month period reserved for comments from the public.

As we reported in last fall’s Lost in Detention, immigrants in detention facilities are extremely vulnerable to abuse, since they don’t have access to legal counsel and have uncertain legal statuses.

Immigrants detained in such facilities filed more than 170 allegations of sexual abuse in the last four years, according to government documents obtained by FRONTLINE and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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