National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Media

Obama Administration Should Include Immigrant Detainees in Prison Rape Elimination Act Guidelines

May 17, 2012

Washington, D.C. — In 2003 a unanimous Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). This was the first civil law that focused on eliminating sexual abuse in detention facilities. However, the Obama administration announced today that the Department of Homeland Security, and thus all immigration detention facilities, are exempted from rules issued by the Department of Justice to implement PREA. The rule states that all Federal departments with confinement facilities, including DHS, will issue separate rules or procedures to satisfy PREA’s requirements. The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

“Our country prides itself on protecting basic human rights for all people in America, but today’s announcement by the Department of Justice undermines that commitment. The decision to exclude immigrants in civil detention from the rule released today means non-citizens remain vulnerable to sexual assault while individuals in Department of Justice custody receive protections. In short, this exclusion threatens the safety of the almost four hundred thousand men, women, and unaccompanied children who are in custody for immigration purposes per year.

“The administration wide enforcement of PREA is all the more critical today, one day after Republican leadership in U.S. House of Representatives rolled back protections in the Violence Against Women Act for battered immigrant women. The administration’s veto threat of the Republican legislation, frankly, is undermined by the lack of strict enforcement of PREA guidelines. This was an important opportunity for the administration to protect all women, men and children – regardless of immigration status – from violence, whether within their own homes or while in the federal government’s custody.

“The administration claims that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards released earlier this year are sufficient safeguards against sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities. These standards are an improvement from earlier standards, but fall short of PREA in several areas. For example, immigrant detainees need confidential reporting and protection from retaliation. The standards also lack requirements for proper criminal investigations of assaults and for appropriate background checks and oversight of ICE employees and applicants.

“As we have said before, the improved immigration detention standards — if and when they are fully implemented — are no more than a good first step toward addressing the safety and human rights deficiencies in immigration detention. We will be vigilant in ensuring that the forthcoming rules by DHS promised today are comprehensive and protect all immigrant men and women in detention from rape.

“Best of all will be when Congress recognizes that immigration reform, not more immigration jails, is what this country needs. The government could save millions of dollars a year by capitalizing on cheaper alternatives to detention for nonviolent individuals who are not flight risks. Alternatives can range in cost from as low as 30 cents to $14 a day per individual. By comparison, it costs ICE an average of $122 per day to detain an immigrant.

“Our government must do more to ensure that those held in our immigration detention system are safe and that the system is efficient and accountable.”

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