In July 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed concern about the U.S. government's failure to prevent and investigate sexual abuse in immigration jails.
The complaint cites a May 2007 incident at Hutto, in which a guard was accused of sexually assaulting a woman while her son slept in a crib inside the cell.
The ACLU adds: "Not only did ICE have information about rampant occurrences of sexual assault by officers and employees on detainees at immigration detention centers in general, therefore, but ICE had information about such abuse at Hutto itself."
After the numerous lawsuits and reports of sexual abuse, the ICE promised to implement reforms to prevent abuse in immigration prisons, especially those housing women, and to incorporate the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which was enacted to protect detainees against sexual assault.
But the ACLU says ICE failed to act on its promise.
"Despite this long history of rampant sexual abuse and perennial admonitions as to the necessity of change, there were at least 185 allegations of sexual abuse noted in ICE, DHS Office of Inspector General, and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties documents for one recent four-year period," according to the complaint. "Of these, at least 56 reports concerned detainees in Texas."
The complaint adds: "Notwithstanding the chronic reports of sexual assault against detainees in ICE custody by staff at ICE immigration detention centers, the ever-increasing visibility of and publicity surrounding such assaults, and ICE promises to enforce contract terms aggressively, defendants failed to ensure compliance with the terms of the IGSA governing transports and sexual assault prevention at Hutto."
The class claims that the defendants repeatedly violated ICE policies by allowing single male officers to transport female detainees.
"In sum, during the class period, at least 22 distinct male officers were involved in at least 77 transports in which a single male officer escorted female detainees without a female escorting officer present," according to the complaint.
What's more, the ACLU says, "escort officers were in such complete control of all aspects of the transport that they unquestionably had every opportunity to 'express aggression and seek to dominate others through violent sexual behavior' in the manner warned of in the applicable ICE standards referenced above."
The ACLU says the plaintiffs and other victims who were dropped off at an airport or the bus station had "unique difficulties in reporting their assaults or seeking remedies," including fear of deportation, language barriers and the fact that they were leaving the area and were unable to assist in any investigations.
The ACLU says Raquel Doe did report Dunn's abuse to local police, which arrested Dunn in August 2010 and charged him with three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint for attacks he had committed in Williamson County. Dunn pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 1 year in jail, followed by probation.
The federal government also charged Dunn with four counts of deprivation of civil rights, based on the attacks against Raquel Doe and three other women. Dunn pleaded guilty to two of the four federal charges and awaits sentencing, according to the complaint.
But even after Dunn's abuse resurfaced, the ACLU says, "ICE officials shrugged off their responsibilities to the sexual assault victims."
ICE failed to notify Dunn's victims that he had been arrested, improperly disclosed the victims' names during a press conference, and failed to tell them they had the right to apply for a U visa, which offers protection for victims of certain crimes. In several instances, the ICE administratively closed the plaintiffs' and other class members' cases or moved forward with deportation proceedings, according to the complaint.
More than a year after Dunn's assaults on the plaintiffs, only one of the three named plaintiffs - Kimberly Doe - has obtained a U visa, the ACLU says.
It claims the defendants never advised the other victims of the availability of a U visa and failed to help them recover from sexual assault and find immigration counsel.
"ICE's deliberate refusal to provide information about direct referral to immigration providers who offered their assistance to unrepresented Hutto victims such as Raquel, coupled with its failure to notify Hutto victims of the availability of U visas and its resistance to providing the necessary certification to represented Hutto victims even upon repeated request, is consistent with a pattern of deliberate indifference toward sexual assault in immigration detention and denying victims access to immigration relief and civil redress," the complaint states.
The ACLU says Evelyn Hernandez, the CCA manager at Hutto, was put on administrative leave in May 2010 and eventually fired over transportation issues at Hutto. But the ACLU claims ICE never terminated its contract with CCA because of the sexual assaults, and that CCA failed to discipline any of the officers who violated ICE transportation policies.
The plaintiffs seek class certification and compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, gross negligence, negligent supervision, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual assault and false imprisonment.
Their lead counsel is Lisa Graybill with the ACLU of Texas.
Named as defendants are ICE officials Jerald Neveleff, George Robertson and Jorge Rosado, Williamson County, Williamson County monitor John Foster, Corrections Corporation of America, former CCA facility administrator Evelyn Hernandez and Donald Dunn.
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