People's Tribunal Holds ICE Accountable For Systemic Sexual & Physical Abuse

For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 12, 2018


Carly Perez,, 202-846-7059

Liz Martinez, 956-572-4349

“Justice Comes from the People:” People’s Tribunal holds ICE accountable for its culture of secrecy and systemic abuse

Part of the #ICEonTrial campaign, a series of coordinated People’s Tribunals across the country


Washington, DC — Today, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC), Detention Watch Network and other immigrant rights activists gathered in front of the National Archives Building for a People’s Tribunal to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accountable for its culture of secrecy and systemic abuse.

“ICE is responsible for what happened to me in detention,” said Rosanna Santos, a judge at today’s people’s tribunal and an immigrant who was sexually harassed by a detention facility guard at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania.

Exactly, one year ago this week, Freedom for Immigrants filed a federal civil rights complaint against ICE on behalf of Ms. Santos and 26 other people who were sexually assaulted in immigration detention.  Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the organization found that between January 2010 and July 2016, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against DHS’s component agencies.  But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases.

More complaints were submitted against ICE than any other DHS component agency. Of the total number of complaints, over 44 percent (or nearly 15,000 complaints) were lodged against ICE.  Unfortunately, nothing has been done to curb sexual abuse at ICE facilities since we filed our complaint. Instead, ICE has petitioned the National Archives to trash its records of sexual assault.

“This is extremely disturbing because immigrants who have survived sexual trauma in detention are re-victimized by an ineffective or non-existent investigation process,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC).  “By not properly investigating each allegation of sexual assault, our government sends a message that sexual abuse of immigrants will be tolerated.

The Tribunal is one of several coordinated People’s Tribunals across the country under the #ICEonTrial campaign, a nationwide effort to expose ICE’s track record of abuse and hold them accountable.

With dozens of people in attendance, key findings from the Tribunal include:

  • ICE’s lack of investigations into abuse sends the message that it tolerates the sexual and physical assault of people in detention

  • No one is held accountable because there is hardly any oversight

  • ICE’s attempts to destroy sexual assault records seek to erase the pain and trauma people in detention have suffered at the hands of government

  • The Trump administration wants to make things worse by expanding immigration detention

“Today's judgement shows that immigrants are being mistreated every single day in these jails and prisons,” said Gretta Soto Moreno, a transgender woman who survived sexual, physical and emotional abuse in detention and who is now part of Freedom for Immigrants’ leadership council. “ICE cannot be trusted.”

Under the explicitly anti-immigrant Trump administration, ICE is emboldened to be less transparent, unaccountable and act with increased impunity. 

“ICE is a government agency responsible for egregious abuse and even death, that operates with an ‘answer to no one’ mentality,” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director at Detention Watch Network. “ICE must be forced to make every aspect of its operations public. It is unacceptable that a government agency can act with such disregard for transparency and continually evade congressional accountability — the shrouds of secrecy must be lifted.”


Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) is devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system.We visit and monitor 43 immigrant prisons and jails, and we run the largest national hotline for detained immigrants.Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit

SEARAC was founded in 1979 to facilitate the relocation of Southeast Asian refugees into American society and to foster the development of nonprofit organizations led by and for Southeast Asian Americans. SEARAC has grown into an organization that strengthens the capacity of community-based organizations led by refugees from around the world. We serve as a coalition builder and leader among diverse refugee communities; carry out action-oriented research projects; foster civic engagement among refugees; and represent refugee communities at the national level in Washington, DC and at the state level in California.

CODEPINK is a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.

La ColectiVA is an inclusive collaborative led by gente Latinx who are committed to upholding social justice and equity. / La ColectiVA es una colaborativa inclusiva liderada por gente Latinx que están comprometidas a defender la justicia social y la equidad.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice. Local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona build coalitions and initiate campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, BAJI provides training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, works with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiates vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization.

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. To learn more, visit