Minnesota jail investigates assaults of immigrant

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old high school student who was being held for U.S. immigration authorities in the Sherburne County jail highlights an emerging problem of sexual abuse of immigration detainees across the country.

The jail houses 85 immigration detainees under contract with the federal government. Many haven’t been charged with crimes but are often comingled with prisoners who are serving time. Since the assaults, the jail has stopped keeping immigration detainees in cells with other prisoners, the Star Tribune reported Sunday (http://strib.mn/1gvFb8M ).

Besides the criminal case, Sherburne County is also conducting an administrative investigation into whether the jail staff’s actions or inactions contributed to the offense, prompted by a new federal law designed to stem sexual abuse of immigrant detainees.

A review by The American Civil Liberties Union found nearly 200 allegations that detainees were abused in detention facilities nationwide from 2007 to 2011. A Government Accountability Office report last year called for action to prevent sexual abuse in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 250 detention facilities, including those run by state and local governments. An audit found that 40 percent of the allegations reported to ICE field offices were not passed on to headquarters. It also found about 14 percent of the calls to a hotline for reporting abuses did not go through.

ICE arrested the Minnesota victim in late February and began deportation proceedings after he was convicted of trying to steal a watch from a Wal-Mart and possessing a small amount of marijuana. He was placed in a cell for a week with a convicted child molester. According to the criminal complaint, the 31-year-old admitted grabbing at his cellmate’s genitals numerous times as he slept. The victim has since been released but still faces deportation.

More than 50 ICE detainees recently wrote to the Star Tribune. Sorsor Jallah, a 26-year-old from Liberia who drafted the letter, said detainees fear for their lives because they are housed with rapists and other violent offenders. He said many are too afraid to complain.

“A lot of (the detainees) were saying not to sign their names because it might impact their case,” Jallah said.

Sherburne County’s jail commander, Pat Carr, said staff will take action if informed that detainees are threatened.

“Treatment at the Sherburne County jail is not cruel,” he said.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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