The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a lawsuit in federal district court today seeking damages for three women who were allegedly sexually assaulted at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, and several others who experienced similar trauma.
Among others, the ACLU sued three ICE officials, the Corrections Corporation of America, which manages the Hutto facility, the former facility administrator, and Donald Dunn, a former guard at the Hutto facility.
Dunn pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint based on alleged assaults of five women, according to the ACLU. Separately, Dunn has been charged with four other federal counts of criminal violation of civil rights, and he is awaiting sentencing on two of them.
The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit are identified as Sarah Doe, 24, from Africa, Kimberly Doe, a 37-year-old mother of three from South America, and Raquel Doe, a 34-year-old mother of four from Central America. All three women were seeking asylum in the United States, fleeing violence in their home countries, according to an ACLU press release.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the agency does not specifically comment on pending litigation but maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse. The agency, she said, is committed to ensuring that detainees are treated safely, securely and humanely.
"The DHS Office of the Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigate ALL allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct and the agency takes appropriate action – whether it is pursuing criminal charges or administrative action — when those allegations are substantiated,” Christensen said in an emailed statement.
“Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse,” said Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Many do not speak English, many – like our plaintiffs – have fled violence in their home countries, and are terrified of being returned. They may not be aware of their rights or they may be afraid to exercise them.”
The alleged assaults took place when Dunn, by himself, transported women from the Hutto facility to the airport or bus station in nearby Austin.
From December 2008 to May 2010, about 20 different male guards were alone when they transported at least 44 female detainees.
The lawsuit alleges that officials were “deliberately indifferent” and “willfully blind” to employees who consistently violated a rule that prohibits detainees from being transported without another escort or officer of the same gender present.
The ACLU recently obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that it says provide a window into a national problem of abuse of detainees in immigration detention facilities. The ACLU is making information from these documents public for the first time today.
“Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Whitburn. “Government records reveal that since 2007, 185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security about sexual abuse in ICE custody, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas.”