Administration Misses Opportunity to Protect Immigrants Held in Detention

Friday, May 18, 2012
George Tzamaras or Amanda Walkins
202-507-7649 / 202-507-7618 /

Regulations issued exclude people held in DHS facilities from the Prison Rape Elimination Act

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) believes the Obama administration missed a critical opportunity to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from rape and sexual assault in detention facilities used nationwide by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2003, nearly ten years ago, a bi-partisan Congress enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), providing protection for all people in federal confinement including those in immigration detention. But new regulations issued May 17th exclude people held in DHS facilities from PREA's protection.

"AILA lawyers represent hundreds of people who cannot sleep at night out of fear that they will be raped in civil immigration detention," said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. "This announcement means these individuals--many who pose no danger to anyone and don't even need to be in detention--will remain at further risk of harm when they should have been protected by these regulations. No one should be subjected to sexual assault or any form of abuse while in government custody. Why have immigrants been carved out of this protection?" Earlier this year, ICE issued its own non-binding detention standards which fall far short of meeting the PREA standards.

"AILA will be watching carefully to make sure DHS does not delay in issuing PREA rules," Pelta said, referring to the administration's pledge that DHS and several other agencies will issue their own regulations under PREA that will become final within 360 days. "The regulations issued are an important step forward for those facilities used by the Department of Justice. But we waited nearly ten years for them to be issued. We cannot stand by waiting another ten years while heinous acts are committed against people in immigration detention.

"Immigrants come to our shores every day seeking protection and freedom from government abuse and detention. It is wrong for the U.S. government to put these people in jail in the first place, but it is downright unconscionable that we cannot guarantee their safety in these facilities," Pelta continued. Under this administration, DHS has held an estimated 400,000 individuals in immigration detention facilities each year--an unprecedented level that continues to grow. "American taxpayers are spending nearly $2 billion annually on immigration detention when we could be using far more cost-effective and humane measures as alternatives to detention. The criminal justice system has already implemented such methods. It is unacceptable that DHS is still playing catch-up when people's lives are at stake."


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 12051860.