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GAO Recommends Changes in ICE Collection of Sex Abuse Data

A new General Accounting Office (GAO) Report has called into question the Completeness of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) collection of data regarding sexual abuse and assault incidents in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities.  GAO reviewed data in facilities that had in excess of 1.2 million admissions and which also had 215 allegations of sexual abuse and assault from October 2009, through March, 2013.

According to the GAO report, ICE’s failed to record 28 allegations reported to the GAO inspectors when they inspected 10 facilities as part of their data-collection process.  At those 10 facilities, these 28 unreported incidents constituted 40 percent of the total of 70 reported incidents made at these same 10 facilities.  GAO also identified other deficiencies in ICE procedures for reporting abuse case, including problems with the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) hotline.  According to the GAO, 14 percent of calls made to that hotline were not answered or did not go through.

GAO performed what it termed a non-scientific sampling of the 10 facilities that were selected based upon their varied size, ethnic compositions, average length of detainee detention and other factor, to give them a cross-sampling of ICE operations.  Both detainees and correctional employees were interviewed to determine and identify possible inconsistencies in ICE policies concerning sexual abuse and suggest improvement in the agency’s sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention (SAAPI) procedures.

The GAO noted that the report was undertaken in response to Congress’ passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), whose aim was to help protect individuals who might be subject to removal from the United States.  Many immigration rights experts feel that detainees in ICE facilities are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault, largely because many victims of such exploitation are often reluctant to report incidents accusing individuals who the perceived power to remove them from the country.

DHS indicated that it had examine the level of its sexual abuse and assault monitoring in 157 of its 250 facilities which held 90 percent of its detainees and determined that it was largely compliant with SAAPI requirements.  However, the GAO noted that many ICE facilities were deficient in having readily available current sexual abuse statistics for immediate inspection, as required by department regulations and that many incidents were not promptly reported to higher-ups.

GAO made various recommendations for improvement in ICE procedures, including adding additional control to require prompt reporting of all incidents, maintaining more easily accessible records of incidents that have occurred, maintaining accurate documentation of detention standards meant to reduce incidents, and improving oversight of SAAPI requirements.


See: www.gao.gove/products/GAO-14-38.

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