Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Lost in Detention' online: Government documents on sexual abuse allegations, more

A guard stands outside one of the tent-like structures at the Willacy Detention Center in Texas, May 2007
A guard stands outside one of the tent-like structures at the Willacy Detention Center in Texas, May 2007 Photo by Mauricio Rabuffetti/AFP Getty Images

PBS Frontline has followed up last night's "Lost in Detention" special on the immigrant detention system - and the policies landing a growing number of immigrants in it - with additional materials online.

The Frontline website has posted a series of government documents related to more than 170 allegations of sexual abuse in the last four years, with the largest number of abuse compliants coming from the Willacy Detention Center, a privately operated detention center in Raymondville, Texas that has been nation's largest. Built from Kevlar domes and commonly referred to as a "tent city," it was announced in June that the facility was losing its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, and will instead be housing foreign-born "criminal alien" inmates for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to Frontline, their investigation into sexual abuse complaints in the detention system "found no evidence that the vast majority of complaints had been investigated or resolved." From the website:

Most of the complaints went through the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s (IG) Office, which is the primary office responsible for investigating outside complaints. IG records show only 15 “reports of investigation,” which resulted in six substantiated or partially substantiated cases. Two guards were convicted of sexual abuse; three others have been terminated from their positions.

The documents, together with interviews of dozens of detainees, employees, investigators and officials, present a portrait of detainees with few effective recourses if they are victims of crimes while in detention. Many say they face continuous pressure to sign deportation orders. And unlike in the criminal justice system, immigration detainees do not have a guaranteed right of legal representation, and so have difficulty with access to counsel if they have a grievance.

A former mental health coordinator at Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, told FRONTLINE that officials attempted to cover up complaints of sexual abuse, which she described as common among female detainees. The coordinator said she later resigned because of the treatment of detainees at the facility.


The site also features an interactive map of detention facilities around the country. In case you missed the documentary, the first chapter can be viewed online. Here's the video:

Watch Lost in Detention on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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