October 25, 2011 | 11:39am
A recent American Civil Liberties Union report shows that sexual abuse of people in immigration detention facilities is a widespread, and likely underreported, issue in the U.S.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the ACLU learned of almost 200 cases of alleged sexual abuse in 22 different states since 2007. Only three states, however, had 16 or more allegations, and California was one of them. Although Texas topped the list with 56 allegations, California was next with 17 and Arizona had 16.
And, of the immigration detention centers in California, the Santa Ana City Jail has the second highest incidence of allegations at three. The Otay Detention Facility tops the list with four allegations.
If you click on each individual state on the ACLU's map,
there's a break down of the allegations at each facility. Last year at the Santa Ana City Jail, for example, someone was allegedly inappropriately strip-searched and then not allowed personal hygiene items at the Santa Ana facility.
As a result of their study, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three women who were sexually assaulted at a detention center in Taylor, Texas. For more details on the women, who came to the U.S. to flee sexual assault, and the man who assaulted them, check out the ACLU's press release.
In a written statement, Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency has zero tolerance for abuse, adding that they investigate all allegations and take "appropriate actions."
Mark Whitburn, an ACLU lawyer in Texas, says he fears the 185 complaints they found are "just the tip of the iceberg." Language barriers, a fear of being sent back to their home countries and a lack of knowledge of their rights make immigration detainees an especially vulnerable population, Whitburn says.