Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new analysis that examines “How the Prison Rape Elimination Act Helps LGBT Immigrants in Detention.” The brief, by CAP Policy Analyst Sharita Gruberg, details the risks that LGBT immigrants face in the U.S. detention system, why these standards are so vital for protecting immigrants, and why we still need to go further with reforming these standards.
More than a decade after Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, published standards to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is required to detain 34,000 immigrants every day in 294 facilities, and every facility followed different guidelines for handling immigrant detainees before the standards were introduced.
These new DHS standards of protection are of particular importance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, immigrants, who are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse due to their isolation, the fact that they are in the custody of the agency that determines whether they can stay in or are deported from the United States, and in the case of asylum seekers, the trauma they may have faced in their country of origin. Prior to DHS’s creation of PREA standards, investigations into sexual abuse in immigration detention from both the government and outside organizations found high incidence of abuse, as well as inadequate reporting and investigation mechanisms.
In response to the disturbing rate of sexual assault in detention, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. PREA created the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to draft national standards—which were published in June 2009— to prevent, detect, and punish prison rape. DHS opened its proposed PREA standards for public comment on December 6, 2012. In response, a coalition of LGBT organizations submitted comments to protect the interests of LGBT immigrant detainees. Fifteen months after issuing the draft standards, DHS published its final standards on March 7, 2014. Despite some serious limitations, the standards include important protections, such as:
A zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse
Safe placement standards
Standards on training and searches
DHS’s Prison Rape Elimination Act standards are a long-awaited and overall positive step forward to improve conditions for detained LGBT immigrants. Additional measures are still needed to protect LGBT immigrants in DHS custody from sexual abuse, and detention should be limited to circumstances in which it is mandatory under the law, not based on congressional quotas.