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Sexual abuse in privately operated ICE detention centers, digital prisons, and mass surveillance

Human rights and immigrant community organizations expose and fight ICE abuses

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Sexual abuse in privately operated ICE detention centers, digital prisons, and mass surveillance

Editor’s note: The following two-part story contains direct references to sexual abuse and sexual assault.

The UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) recently released “​​Calls to nowhere: Reports of sexual abuse and assault go unanswered at the NWDC,” the latest in their series of reports on human rights abuses at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Tacoma. 

“[The] existence [of gaps in the implementation of sexual abuse prevention standards] suggests that no one really knows how widespread sexual abuse may be at the NWDC,” the report states.

According to the document, the private prison contractor GEO Group that operates NWDC is contractually obligated to uphold safety standards legislated by Congress and issued by ICE. These standards require multiple avenues of sexual abuse reporting accessible to detainees and immediate responses from GEO and ICE.

“In fact, the records show that ICE appears to fail to respond adequately — in some cases, at all — to abuse reported through the very mechanisms the agency has created purportedly to facilitate reporting,” the document says.

The report also shows that researchers came to this conclusion by examining hundreds of ICE Significant Incident Reports and thousands of written grievances filed by NWDC detainees.

“We file, for example, a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests of many government agencies,” Angelina Godoy, director of UWCHR, said. “Student researchers . . . helped generate those requests . . . Other students have monitored those requests as they've gone through the system and helped us analyze the documents.”

UWCHR’s findings detail cases of sexual abuse of detainees by other detainees, NWDC healthcare providers, and GEO officers. In many cases, victims utilized hotlines advertised in posters at NWDC for reporting assaults, but ICE failed to respond, ignoring or dismissing the cases.

Godoy explained that these failures originate in the fact that NWDC is a for-profit facility which increases profits when depriving detainees of adequate food, medical care, protection from sexual abuse and assault, and using solitary confinement to retaliate against those who speak out against these conditions, as uncovered by UWCHR’s reports.

“Since ICE is permitted to remove or transfer people from the NWDC at will and without explanation, there is a danger that they could do so . . . as a way to cover up troubling cases,” the findings say.

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The report cites documentation of systematic sexual assault and abuse in ICE facilities across the country and related lawsuits against private prison companies.

The real purpose of ICE

ICE was allotted an $8.3 billion budget in 2021, an over twofold increase since 2003. Journalist Juan González on Democracy Now said that the entire federal government in recent decades has been turned into an apparatus for hunting down, deporting, and locking up immigrants.

Godoy said that while ICE often uses the language of criminality and public threat, they do not have the legal authority to detain anyone for public safety reasons. 

“[The purpose of ICE] is a specific population control,” Maru Mora Villalpando, co-founder of Washington grassroots organization La Resistencia, said. “The U.S. was built on stealing natives people's land. It was built on bringing Black people to be slaves . . . The U.S. immigration system is built to keep us as cheap slave labor when it's convenient for them and kick us out when they don't need us anymore. But on the way there, they still profit from us.”

Continue on for part two of the story here, which highlights how community groups have come together in the face of ICE and includes how anyone can support these efforts.

Reach contributing writer Vyom Raval at Twitter: @SemiVyom

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