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While in ICE custody, thousands of migrants reported sexual abuse

As migrant children wait in U.S. immigration detention centers to reunite with their families, public records reveal that in the past decade, thousands of people have reported sexual abuse while in a similar type of immigration custody. Emily Kassie, an investigative reporter and producer who obtained the data and spoke to survivors for The New York Times, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Approximately 2,500 children separated at the border from their families are supposed to be reunited by July 26. While the country pays attention to that story, there's another detention story, which has gotten less coverage — that is allegations of abuse inside detention centers. Data from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the inspector general show that thousands of migrants have claimed they were sexually abused while in ICE custody. Emily Kassie, an investigative journalist and filmmaker with The Marshall Project joins me now to discuss her latest documentary from the New York Times. First, let's take a look at a clip. That is a clear gap in their perception of how or what this relationship was. How widespread is this problem?

  • EMILY KASSIE:

    So sexual abuse in immigration detention has been happening for decades. These cases have come up for watchdog organizations. We want to take a deeper look and really understand the extent to which this was happening. And so, we were looking at two sets of data. One was from the Office of the Inspector General which you mentioned and then the other was from ICE itself that was looking at 1,310 allegations of sexual abuse occurring between 2013 and 2017. So, we were looking at those two sets of data but understanding that there were a number of issues with those sets of that. The first, of course, is that this issue is largely under reported. We're talking about a population who are often fleeing violence and persecution, who are often asylum seekers, who don't speak the language as in the case of Eddie and the guard Daniel Sharkey. He didn't speak Spanish, he didn't speak English. Many of these people don't have access to lawyers because they're not entitled to one. So who they're going to report these things to is very difficult if you don't have that access to a lawyer. And then beyond that there is this fear of deportation if you tell someone, will you be deported back?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So there was clearly a power imbalance here. Did she feel like she had to do this in order to protect her child or have any chance at a fair hearing? And what did she say when you spoke to her about this?

  • EMILY KASSIE:

    Well, when we sat down together, she spoke about fearing that she was going to be forced home with her child and she had fled severe domestic violence in Honduras, so she was seeking asylum with her three-year-old son. And he, the guard, had translated on the phone to her because that was the only way they could communicate — through google translate. So what she said is that he had translated to her on the phone that she couldn't tell anyone or she would be deported. So given that situation, she said that she felt like she wasn't in a position to say no. She knew what he wanted and she just went ahead and followed his lead.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What happened to the guard and why did he decide to sit down with you?

  • EMILY KASSIE:

    We chose the two cases that we did of E.D. and Maria because they were so rare in that they had convictions. So when it came to E.D. and Daniel Sharkey's case, I wanted to understand you know, how did this happen? And from his testimony, he said, you know, everybody knew. Well, how did they know? So we wanted to go to him. And when I spoke to him, I said, look, you know, we are featuring her perspective, we have all these case documents, you're saying that everybody knew about this. We want to give you a big opportunity to tell your side of the story and he felt strongly that he wanted to do that. So when we sat down, he talked about feeling failed by a system. He talked about not feeling like he had proper training. When he went to a supervisor and told that supervisor that there was some sort of relationship between himself and E.D., the supervisor just told him to keep his distance so he didn't take it very seriously and in his words he really thought he could get away with it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Emily Kassie, investigative journalist with The Marshall Project, these are just a couple of the cases that you focused on but as you point out this is a bigger problem. Thanks for joining us.

  • EMILY KASSIE:

    Thanks for having me.

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