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ACLU releases documents alleging sexual abuse of female detainees

October 19, 2011 | 12:13 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union has released government documents containing 185 allegations of sexual abuse against female immigration detainees in federal detention centers since 2007.

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, include detailed narratives by three women who describe sexual assaults by guards while the detainees were being transported in prison vans.

The ACLU said the 185 assaults took place in or near federal detention centers around the country, with more allegations against facilities in Texas than in any other state. The assaults described in the documents, obtained from government agencies, do not represent the full scope of the problem because sexual assault is "notoriously underreported,’’ the ACLU said.

"Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse -- and those holding them in custody know it," Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. "Many do not speak English ... and may not be aware of their rights, or they may be afraid to exercise them."

The documents reflect "just the tip of the iceberg" for detainees at risk of sexual abuse, Whitburn said.

The ACLU called on the federal government to take specific steps to ensure that detainees in government custody are fully protected.

The ACLU released the documents Wednesday in conjunction with a class-action suit filed in Texas on behalf of three women who say they were sexually assaulted. Those women, along with other female detainees who filed assault complaints, were seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing sexual assault 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," Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement.

The Texas suit names as defendants three officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement; a guard accused of assaulting the women; and Corrections Corp. of America, the country’s largest private prisons contractor, which runs the detainee facility in Taylor, Texas, where several alleged assaults occurred.

Of the 185 complaints of sexual assault contained in the government documents, 56 were from facilities in Texas, the ACLU said. There were 17 sexual assault allegations against facilities in California and 16 in Arizona.

Donald Dunn, the guard in Texas named in the lawsuit, has pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of official repression and two counts of unlawful restraint related to assaults against five women, according to the ACLU. Dunn also faces four federal counts of criminal violations of civil rights, the ACLU said.

Details of the allegations are posted on the ACLU website.

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-- David Zucchino

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