WASHINGTON -- Immigrant detainees will no longer be treated differently under the law than prison inmates for purposes of rape prevention, the Obama administration announced on Thursday.
The White House plans to release a presidential memorandum later in the day that extends the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which now only applies to the Department of Justice, to all other federal agencies within the next 240 days.
"These regulations will build upon the substantial improvements we have made to agency policy and procedures to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in immigration detention," Department of Homeland Security Spokesperson Peter Boogaard said in a statement. "DHS will move swiftly to promulgate these regulations and will work with the Attorney General and others to ensure that the regulations satisfy the requirements of the statute.”
DHS has its own rules to protect inmates against rape, but lawmakers and advocates have called for congressionally mandated standards to be imposed government-wide to prevent abuse within detention facilities.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed unanimously in 2003, and the Justice Department released its final rule on Thursday. The rule will expand trainings of prison personnel to detect sexual abuse, increase screenings of inmates and guards and broaden opportunities for those in custody to report rape. Trainings and screening protocols will also cover the unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming inmates.
That rule applies only to the Justice Department because, officials said last year, other detention agencies are under the purview of other government agencies. Those agencies include the DHS, which houses immigrants slated for deportation, and Health and Human Services, which runs facilities that hold unaccompanied undocumented children.
Now, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, other agencies will be required to draft their own rules within 120 days, followed by a public comment period and then enact them within 240 days, officials said.
"As the administration, our job is to make sure that each of these agencies fully applies the law, and so that's why we're moving it forward in this way," the White House official said.
Advocates who argued for the inclusion of those agencies under the Prison Rape Elimination Act said undocumented immigrants are especially susceptible to rape because they fear reporting abusers who could control their deportation. Advocates also say immigrants can be hurt by a lack of information on reporting crime and possible language barriers.
Some undocumented men and women have claimed they were sexually assaulted on the way to airports as they were being deported, which gave them little to no chance to report the crime before being put on a plane. A guard at the private detention center T. Don Hutto Facility in Taylor, Texas, was charged in 2010 for sexual assault after reports that he raped several women while driving them to the airport to be deported.
A senior White House official told reporters on a press call that the Department of Homeland Security's rule will be applied to all detention facilities, including private ones such as the T. Don Hutto Facility, which is run by detention center giant Corrections Corporation for America.
More than 180 cases of sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers were reported between 2007 and mid-2011, according to government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union last year.
This article has been updated to include additional information about training and screening protocols.