In April 2017, we filed a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detailing the prevalence of reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the lack of adequate government investigation into these reports.

We called for a federal investigation into these reports and for the rapid development of protocols to ensure that all such reports of sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated and that relevant records are disclosed to the public.

Read a copy of the complaint here.


We analyzed data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for sexual and physical assault data from the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). We filed FOIA requests with other agencies within DHS but only the OIG responded. 

Key Findings:

  • We found that between January 2010 and July 2016, the OIG received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against component agencies in DHS.  But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases.  

  • The OIG received at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse filed by people in detention between May 2014 and July 2016, meaning that the OIG received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse from people in detention per day during this time period. We found that the OIG investigated only 24 of those complaints, or 2.4% of the total.

  • In addition to the 1,016 complaints of sexual abuse/assault reported by people in detention, there were 402 complaints of “coerced sexual contact”, 196 complaints of “sexual harassment”, and 380 complaints of “physical or sexual abuse” lodged against ICE.

  • We determined that more complaints were submitted against Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) than any other DHS component agency. Of the total number of complaints, 44.4% (or nearly 14,700 complaints) were lodged against ICE, followed by Customs and Border Protection, or CBP.

  • We also analyzed data regarding calls made to the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line (DRIL) between October 2012 and March 2016. According to this data, the highest number of DRIL calls related to sexual and/or physical abuse incidents came from the Jena/LaSalle Detention Facility, followed by the Houston Contract Detention Facility, Adelanto Correctional Facility, Northwest Detention Center and the San Diego Contract Facility. All top five detention facilities with the most sexual and physical complaints are privately operated.



We submitted this complaint on behalf of 27 people, including 8 class representatives, who are in immigration detention or have been released from detention and have experienced sexual abuse.

Rosanna Santos was one of those people. 

She was sexually harassed by a corrections officer in immigration detention at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania, who told her that if she did not do whatever he said that he would sodomize her. Shortly after filing a complaint about the incident, Ms. Santos was inexplicably placed into solitary confinement for 11 days.

A lot of the girls there had problems like this. Most of them don’t even end up complaining or saying anything about it because they’re scared of retaliation. Since my complaint, nothing has happened. It is like they want to keep me quiet.
— Rosanna Santos


We are urging Congress to establish the second bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to investigate the effectiveness of PREA in preventing sexual assault and violations of PREA in CBP and ICE detention facilities.

We are also calling on DHS to ensure that all DHS facilities, including all ICE detention facilities and CBP holding facilities, have not only contractually adopted but also implemented the DHS PREA standards, and to proactively and quarterly publish information on all reported complaints of sexual abuse in DHS facilities.

As a result of our findings, more than 70 Democratic representatives sent a letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Raul Grijlava (D-AZ), to top DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials in December 2017.  The letter demanded increased accountability and transparency over claims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment within immigrant detention facilities.  

If DHS is either unable or unwilling to ensure that zero sexual abuses occur in immigration detention, then Congress should defund immigration detention and close all facilities.
— Christina Fialho, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Freedom for Immigrants

sexual assault in detention

We have worked with dozens of people who have been sexually assaulted in immigration detention, and from our investigation, we know of thousands of cases of sexual assault in immigration detention.  

Sexual abuse — from verbal harassment to rape — is rampant and routine behind immigration detention walls.  And it's often covered up by the perpetrators. 

A person in immigration detention can’t just pick up and leave — they’re often forced to interact with the individuals who perpetrated the sexual abuse. If they dare to speak up, they’re often retaliated against and then re-victimized by an ineffective or non-existent investigative process.

We are committed to helping those who've been subjected to sexual abuse. 

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse in immigration detention, please contact Rebecca at rmerton@freedomforimmigrants.org.