The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said his office found no evidence of sexual abuse in an immigrant family detention center in southern Texas. Several women had filed sexual-misconduct complaints against guards at the center amid a larger backlash by immigration advocates over the Obama administration’s recently revived practice of family detention.
In a report dated Jan. 7 and released Friday, Inspector General John Roth said the investigation into “allegations of inappropriate relationships” between male guards and female detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Karnes City turned up no substantial evidence to support the complaints.
The report was filed in response to a complaint filed in September alleging that Karnes facility guards had taken female detainees to the laundry room for sex during overnight hours, called detainees their “novias,” or “girlfriends,” and inappropriately touched women in the facility in front of their children. The complaint claimed at least three facility guards engaged in this misconduct.
The inspector general’s office interviewed 33 witnesses and reviewed 360 hours of surveillance footage of the laundry room as part of the investigation, according to the report. But investigators weren’t able to confirm any of the allegations, although it noted that the footage revealed a “romantic relationship” and “inappropriate physical contact” between two detention officers.
The report did not address allegations made in a separate complaint filed last September that said the facility provided detainees with inadequate access to food and medical care, separated mothers from children and charged high amounts for detainees to make phone calls.
Immigration advocates have long disapproved of family detention for immigrants, a practice that remained dormant until last year, when the U.S. began seeing a spike in unaccompanied child migrants crossing its southern border. The influx overwhelmed shelters, Border Patrol resources and an already-backlogged immigration court system, so the Obama administration started reviving family detentions partly as a way to deter more immigrants from crossing into the U.S. Advocates say family detentions are jarring experiences for migrants fleeing violence from their home countries, and largely restrict their access to immigration lawyers.
One facility in Artesia, New Mexico, was rife with complaints about misconduct by its operators: It was finally shuttered late last year. In addition to the Karnes facility, the Department of Homeland Security runs one other family detention center in Dilley, Texas, and a small center in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
However, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said there are plans to operate more family detention centers in coming years, although this is largely dependent on the disposition of the funding bill at the center of a congressional battle over the Obama administration’s immigration policies.