(A government report says ICE field offices are not reporting all allegations of sex abuse in immigration detention centers (AP Photo/Kate Brumback, File))

Investigators find ICE field offices fail to report some sex abuse allegations

Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices were not reporting all allegations of sex abuse to headquarters, government investigators found in a check of 10 facilities.

The incomplete reporting means data may not be useful in managing detention facilities, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Wednesday.  Although ICE adopted rules for reporting sexual abuse and assault allegations, it has not put procedures in place to make sure incidents are reported to ICE headquarters, the GAO said.

In addition, reporting abuse can be challenging for immigrant detainees who run into problems such as being unable to reach a Department of Homeland Security inspector general hotline, the GAO said.

ICE data showed 215 allegations of sexual abuses and assault from October 2009 to March 2013 for facilities that had more than 1.2 million people admitted for detention. But at the 10 facilities visited by the GAO, there were 28 allegations detainees reported which could not be found in the data by GAO inspectors, the report said.

The contractor providing ICE phone services in the fiscal years of 2010 to 2012 found that about 14 percent of calls to the DHS inspector general hotline from about 210 facilities did not connect. In some cases the calls went unanswered, the GAO said.

The GAO found other problems in the department’s efforts to curb sexual abuse and assaults such as failing to assess compliance with all relative prevention standards.

In a written response included with the report, GAO official Rebecca Gambler said sexual abuse should never be a consequence of detention. She agreed with GAO on a need for better reporting of allegations by field offices.

In a statement Wednesday, ICE said it has taken a number of steps to safeguard detainees since the period covered in the GAO report. Just this week, instructions were issued to field offices requiring immediate reporting of cases to ICE headquarters. Also, of the 215 allegations that were reported, 15 were found to be substantiated, ICE said.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is deeply committed to eliminating sexual abuse in immigration detention. Our zero-tolerance policy is a key part of immigration detention reform,” said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.

The DHS inspector general declined comment, but ICE said other reporting options have been created.

The GAO review was requested by several lawmakers led by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California following a report from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission created under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

ICE said it  is awaiting rules for implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, that have yet to be finalized by the Office of Management and Budget.

Ruthie Epstein, policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said those rules are overdue and Congress should demand their release. The rules should set rigorous standards so allegations of sexual abuse “are detected, properly investigated and most of all, prevented from occurring in the first place,” Epstein said. The ACLU had investigated sexual abuse of detainees.

The commission found  that people in immigration detention were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse because of language and cultural issues and to sexual assault by staff because they are housed by the agency that can deport them.

The Department of Homeland Security has drafted proposed national sexual assault and abuse standards . The attorney general directed all federal agencies that operate prisons or other detention facilities to adopt sexual assault and abuse prevention standards.

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