Oct 19th, 2011, Blog of Rights
The Department of Homeland Security assumes that mass detention is the key to immigration enforcement. But in fact, our detention system locks up thousands of immigrants unnecessarily every year, exposing detainees to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers. Throughout the next two weeks, check back daily for posts about the costs of immigration detention, both human and fiscal, and what needs to be done to ensure fair and humane policy at aclu.org
"Kimberly," a South American mother of three who fled to America to escape an abusive husband, wound up imprisoned at the T. Don Hutto immigration detention center in Taylor, Texas after being captured by immigration authorities while crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico. After immigration officials determined she had a credible fear of persecution if she returned to her home country, Kimberly was granted her release.
But her exposure to the dark and largely secretive world of our nation's immigration detention system was just beginning.
As she was being driven to the airport in Austin, Texas by an employee of Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company that manages Hutto, she was sexually assaulted. Her driver, identified in court papers as Donald Dunn, pulled over to the side of a dimly lit road and told Kimberly, under the guise of a "search," to lift up her arms and spread her legs, then lifted her shirt and began touching her breasts and grabbing between her legs. Dunn later ordered Kimberly to touch him.
Kimberly's story epitomizes the tragic costs — both fiscal and human — of mass immigration detention, an immense lock-up system that subjects scores of individuals to unnecessary imprisonment and brutal and dehumanizing conditions of confinement every year, with taxpayers footing the bill. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union is making public for the first time information from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that shows the breadth of the national problem of the sexual abuse of immigration detainees. The information is being made public in concert with the filing today by the ACLU of Texas of a federal class action damages lawsuit on behalf of Kimberly and two other immigrant women who were sexually assaulted while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Hutto, along with numerous others who experienced similar trauma.
Over the next two weeks, Huffington Post and the ACLU's Blog of Rights will host a series exploring the immigration detention system and the harm it has caused countless children, men and women like Kimberly. Throughout this series, we will examine the causes of mass detention — such as ramped up federal immigration enforcement and prison privatization—and its consequences, including the needless detention of immigrants for months or years; the warehousing of mentally ill U.S. citizens; the rape and sexual abuse of immigrant women; and the deaths caused by deficient medical care.
Throughout, we will challenge readers to ask "why?" — why are we locking up immigrants in droves, at tremendous cost to families, communities and taxpayers, with little gain to public safety? Detention has reached crisis proportions, quintupling from 6,280 beds in 1996 to the current daily capacity of 33,400 beds. In 2010, DHS detained 363,000 people in over 250 facilities across the country. Detention is extremely expensive, costing taxpayers an estimated $166 to hold each detainee each day or $60,590 per detainee per year, or an average $5.5 million for the entire system every night. And despite the administration's commitment to "detention reform," there are no signs of shrinking. Indeed, the FY2012 budget requests more than $2 billion for detention, a record-high request representing a 6.3 percent increase over FY2011.
What we have bought with these billions is a lock-up system that violates basic rights and yields few benefits in return. Although detention is often justified as keeping "dangerous criminal aliens" off our streets, DHS itself acknowledges that the people in detention overwhelmingly pose no threat to our communities. Indeed, more than half of them have never been convicted of any crime, and those charged as being deportable based on a crime generally have non-violent or minor offenses. Nor is mass detention necessary to enforce our immigration laws with alternatives like telephonic and in-person reporting, curfews, and home visits available to prevent flight from the authorities. Indeed, DHS's Alternatives to Detention programs had a 93.8 % compliance rate in FY 2010 and at average of $8.88 per person per day.
Historic budget shortfalls are finally forcing policy-makers on the right and left to recognize that reducing mass incarceration makes fiscal sense and better protects our communities. It makes no sense to be expanding a comparable detention regime that costs too much in wasted dollars and ruined lives, and does little to make us safer. Our series seeks a reckoning with an immigration lock-up system that has spiraled out-of-control.
The Department of Homeland Security and ICE have consistently downplayed the problem of sexual assault of immigration detainees.
Urge President Obama and Attorney General Holder to make sure all immigration detainees have the full protection of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 19, 2011
Contact: Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director, ACLU Foundation of Texas; (713) 942 8146 x 103
or (832) 291 4776; firstname.lastname@example.org
ACLU Of Texas Sues ICE Officials, Williamson County And CCA For Sexual Assault Of Immigrant Women
Suit Seeks Class Damages On Behalf Of Numerous Victims
AUSTIN -- The ACLU of Texas today filed suit in federal district court seeking class action damages on behalf of three immigrant women who were sexually assaulted while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, along with numerous others who experienced similar trauma.
Defendants named in the suit include three ICE officials; Williamson County; Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the private corporation in charge of managing the Hutto facility; the former facility administrator for Hutto; and Donald Dunn, a guard who pled guilty in state court to three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint based on his assaults of five women. Separately, Dunn has been charged with four additional federal counts of criminal violation of civil rights and is awaiting sentencing on two of them.
The three named plaintiffs are identified in the lawsuit as Sarah Doe, Kimberly Doe and Raquel Doe to protect them from further harm. All three were seeking asylum in the United States, fleeing sexual assault and extreme violence in their home countries.
“The fact that these women sought sanctuary in the United States -- only to find abuse at the hands of officials they thought would protect them – is wholly inconsistent with America’s self-proclaimed reputation as a beacon of human rights and protector of human dignity,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas.
The assaults occurred when Dunn alone was transporting women from the Hutto facility to the airport or bus station in nearby Austin. Log books and other documents obtained by the ACLU of Texas indicate that in addition to the seven known occasions on which Donald Dunn is believed to have assaulted a total of nine women, at least 20 different male guards transported at least 44 female detainees alone between December 2008 and May 2010. The lawsuit alleges that ICE, Williamson County and CCA were deliberately indifferent and willfully blind to the fact that Dunn and other employees regularly violated the rule that detainees not be transported without another escort officer of the same gender present.
“Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark Whitburn, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Government records reveal that since 2007, 185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security about sexual abuse in ICE custody, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas. Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, and those holding them in custody know it,” Whitburn added. “Many do not speak English, many – like our plaintiffs – have fled violence in their home countries, and are terrified of being returned. They may not be aware of their rights or they may be afraid to exercise them.”
“It has taken enormous courage for these women to step forward in the face of potential retaliation and deportation to speak out against this injustice,” said Graybill. “They’ve done it in the hopes that no other woman will have to experience the fear and violation they did.”
For a copy of the complaint, please see www.aclutx.org.
Hutto Sexual Abuse Case Background
Their Stories In Their Own Words
The Named Plaintiffs For their stories in their own words:
- Kimberly Doe, 37, is a mother of three from a country in South America. She married when she was 19, and her husband began beating her shortly afterwards. The abuse escalated over time, and he raped her, dragged her around by her hair, punched her in the face and locked her inside for a week. On the advice of her mother-in-law, she fled to another country when he threatened to kill her. When he found her there, she fled to the United States. She was apprehended after entering the United States without inspection and transferred to the T. Don Hutto facility, where she passed a credible fear interview and gained the ability to bond out while she pursued an asylum claim. While being transported to the Austin airport, she was sexually assaulted twice by Donald Dunn. First, he forced her to step outside the secure compartment in the back of the vehicle and groped her; then he assaulted her in the front seat of the vehicle.
- Sarah Doe, a 24-year-old from an African country, was repeatedly raped by a military commander at the base where she was assigned to serve her county’s national service requirement. She fled through eight other countries to reach the United States where she hoped to gain political asylum, and was apprehended after entering without inspection and detained at Hutto. She passed a credible fear interview and gained the ability to bond out while she pursued an asylum claim. While being driven to the Austin airport by Donald Dunn, the guard stopped the vehicle, required her to step out of the secure compartment in the vehicle, and assaulted her.
- Raquel Doe is a 34-year-old mother of four whose husband was murdered in her home in Central America. After her husband’s killers began threatening her, she fled to the United States. She was apprehended entering the United States without inspection and detained at Hutto. Raquel passed a credible fear interview and gained the ability to bond out while she pursued an asylum claim. While being driven to the Austin airport by Donald Dunn, she was groped after he required her to step out of the secure compartment of the vehicle. Dunn ordered her to get back into the secure compartment of the vehicle where he joined her and attempted to rape her. Upon arriving at the Austin airport, a ticket agent noticed Raquel had been crying and asked why. When Raquel reported she had just experienced an attempted rape, the ticket agent alerted local authorities, who briefly interviewed her before sending her on her way. Raquel’s outcry resulted in a joint investigation by ICE and Williamson County authorities which ultimately led to the arrest and prosecution of Donald Dunn.
ACLU of Texas attorneys have not been able to locate the remaining six victims. We have no way of knowing if any of these women are represented by immigration counsel or have pursued U visas.
*A U visa gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to 4 years.