Thursday, May 08, 2008

Claims of Sexual Assault at Immigration Facility

Immigrant Rights News – Thursday, May 08, 2008


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Claims of Sexual Assault at Immigration Facility

Reported by: Brian Collister


Last Update: 5/06 10:33 am

(Associated Press ) Startling allegations of sexual assault are coming out about a facility that holds illegal immigrants.  It's said to be happening in Pearsall, just about an hour outside of San Antonio.  News 4 Trouble Shooter Brian Collister is uncovering how some guards may be victimizing the women they are supposed to be protecting.

(Send us your comments/questions at the bottom of this article)

Many of the immigrants held here are women.  Some have fled abuse in their home country, only to be reportedly abused again behind these bars. 

A former detainee, who asked us not to identify her told us, "It was going on a lot.  It was going on almost all the time, the sexual abuse."

She claims sexual abuse came from the guards.  She said while she was there she rejected advances by one of the guards, but said other girls were too scared to put up a fight

"Some of the guards actually tried to force themselves on the girls and that they've told them that if they ever said anything about it, that they have the power with ICE to deport them," explained this former detainee.

The guards work for a private company called GEO, hired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to run the prison.  Sexual contact with detainees is not allowed.  In fact, it's a crime.

The former detainee said, "Some of the girls ended up pregnant by some of the officers there."

She added one of those who got pregnant was a girl from Guatemala, named Marley.  Marley's case is mentioned in an incident report obtained by the News 4 Trouble Shooters.

It details how last may a guard reported being told by another guard that he'd had sex with a Marley, who has already been deported back home.

That guard accused of having sex with Marley was Joseph Canales.  The Trouble Shooters tracked him down, but he told us he didn't get anyone pregnant, then added:

"Whatever happened, happened a long time ago."

After the incident report, Canales was fired, but ICE will not tell us if they referred the case for prosecution.  The US Attorneys Office told us it has no case against Canales.  Still, there are other sexual assaults we've uncovered.

We obtained an email sent by an ICE officer to his supervisors notifying them that a detainee had told him about a GEO sergeant who was having sex with one of the female detainees.

The ICE officer who wrote that e-mail sat down with us, but asked us not to identify him.  He said some of the GEO guards prey on the female detainees by lying to them and promising they can help them stay in the United States.

"If they had the opportunity," he explained, "some of the guards were just touching, groping, but if they had the opportunity they had sex with them.  The female detainees, a lot of them, were willing because they thought it was...somehow their chances of staying were going to increase.  That's not the case whatsoever.  If ICE can keep it under wraps, they will keep it under wraps."

To keep it under wraps, he said he was fired for reporting what was going on.  And he is not alone.  We've also talked to a former GEO guard who said she, too, was fired after reporting sexual abuse.

While ICE would not provide a spokesperson to speak with us on camera, the man in charge did recently speak to News 4 for another story on how they deport illegals and said this about how detainees are treated.

Marc J. Moore, ICE Field Office Director said recently, "I think ICE has a clear commitment to not only safe detention but also humane detention."

A spokesman for GEO told us they didn't know of any sexual assault cases, but when Trouble Shooter Collister asked about the incident in this report, we got no response.

The people who run this prison may not want to talk about it, but we're not done digging.  We'll follow up with more in the coming days and weeks.

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More Guards Come Forward To Confirm Sexual Assault Claims

Reported by: Brian Collister


Last Update: 5/06 5:54 pm

(Steve Kline, Newport Television LLC) Reaction is coming into a News 4 Trouble Shooters investigation into sexual assaults at a South Texas Immigration Detention Facility for illegal immigrants. 

See original investigation...

In at least one case, a guard reportedly got a female detainee pregnant.  It's all happening at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall.  News 4 Trouble Shooter Brian Collister brings you the fall out from his investigation.

We've heard from several more former guards at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall since we aired our investigation.  They all say the sexual abuse of female immigrants there has been going on for years and the people running the facility are trying to cover it all up. 

The agency that runs the facility is finally commenting, and so is a US Congressman.

The San Antonio Field Office Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Marc J. Moore, sent us the following statement early Tuesday evening:

"The allegations raised in the news story have been referred to the Office of the Inspector General.  Additionally, ICE is now sending a Detention Facilities Inspection Group (DFIG)* team to review compliance with ICE detention standards and will make recommendations based on the results of its review."  (Read full statement below.)

"This is shocking," said Scott Medlock, attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.  "This is outrageous that this is going on, and that nothing appears to being done about it."

Medlock said the detainees who are being assaulted probably feel they have no one to turn to.

"The greatest threat to them is, 'we're going to deport you, to get you out of here before you get a chance at relief in your immigration case,' so that makes them very afraid to step up and say, 'these are problems in this facility,' or, 'I am being abused.'"

Our investigation shows that abuse has been reported to the government agency that runs the facility, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.

A former detainee told the News 4 Trouble Shooters she told ICE investigators about the widespread problem last year.

"I told them everything that was going on in the kitchen.  How even the lieutenants were doing stuff," she explained.

ICE is still not talking about these cases, which includes former guard Joseph Canales.  We're told Canales was fired after getting a detainee pregnant, but surprisingly that case was apparently not investigated by ICE.

In a report obtained by the Trouble Shooters, ICE had the private company that hires the guards, GEO, to investigate the possible crime.

Medlock said, "This report you've discovered says that they let the GEO group do the investigation of what happened.  That's really letting the fox guard the hen house."

We've also tried to get answers from two area congressman.  The Pearsall facility is in Henry Cuellar's district, and Lamar Smith sits on the committee overseeing the agency that runs the facility.  So far, neither has offered a comment on what we uncovered.

We're not stopping there.  We'll be back with more as we continue to uncover more from what's been going on inside the Pearsall facility.

ICE Statement:

The allegations raised in the news story have been referred to the Office of the Inspector General. Additionally, ICE is now sending a Detention Facilities Inspection Group (DFIG)* team to review compliance with ICE detention standards and will make recommendations based on the results of its review.

ICE would also like to make it clear that no employee has been, nor will be, terminated or disciplined for reporting misconduct at any facility that houses ICE detainees.

Regarding your additional questions, ICE will continue to review and will provide any other publicly releasable information when appropriate."

Marc J. Moore

San Antonio Field Office Director

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 

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