A women’s rights group is demanding that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights investigate allegations of sexual abuse at a Texas immigrant detention center that houses families.
In a press statement issued Friday, UltraViolet pointed to multiple allegations of abuse contained in an open letter published by the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund earlier this month against Karnes County Residential Center.
“The Department of Homeland of Security has a rape problem, with a huge number of allegations of sexual assault being reported out of Karnes,” Karin Roland, organizing director at UltraViolet, told The Huffington Post. “They need to investigate this immediately.”
The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund wrote an open letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month alleging that at least three employees harassed or abused "numerous" women at the detention center since August.
The letter alleges detention center guards removed female detainees from their cells in the middle of the night to engage in sexual acts with them, groped them in front of their children, and requested sex in exchange for money or assistance with their immigration cases.
After the women reported the allegations of abuse, the MALDEF letter says, authorities at the detention center failed to address the problem.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman declined to discuss ongoing investigations earlier this month when the letter was first published, but said the center had implemented protections against sexual abuse consistent with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
"ICE remains committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner," ICE said in a statement. "ICE has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault and our facilities are maintained in accordance with applicable laws and policies. Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken."
UltraViolet is circulating a petition demanding that DHS investigate the sexual abuse allegations. The petition had fielded more than 41,000 signatures as of Friday, the group said.
The Obama administration is expanding the family immigrant detention this year due to an sharp rise in the number of Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the MALDEF letter alleged three women had experienced abuse at the detention center. In fact, the letter alleges three employees had harassed or abused "numerous" women.