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Report Sites Sexual Abuse at GEO's Pearsall Immigrant Detention Center

San Antonio reporter Brian Collister, of the WOAI news station, has reported horrendous accounts of what appears to be widespread sexual abuse and cover-up at the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center, located in Pearsall. According to the first of two stories run this week ("Claims of Sexual Assault at Immigration Facility," May 6),

A former detainee, who asked us not to identify her told us, "It was going on a lot. It was going on almost all the time, the sexual abuse."

She claims sexual abuse came from the guards. She said while she was there she rejected advances by one of the guards, but said other girls were too scared to put up a fight.

"Some of the guards actually tried to force themselves on the girls and that they've told them that if they ever said anything about it, that they have the power with ICE to deport them," explained this former detainee.

The guards work for a private company called GEO, hired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to run the prison. Sexual contact with detainees is not allowed. In fact, it's a crime.

The former detainee said, "Some of the girls ended up pregnant by some of the officers there."

In fact, it appears that one detainee may have become pregnant due to the abuse.

She added one of those who got pregnant was a girl from Guatemala, named Marley. Marley's case is mentioned in an incident report obtained by the News 4 Trouble Shooters.

It details how last may a guard reported being told by another guard that he'd had sex with a Marley, who has already been deported back home.

That guard accused of having sex with Marley was Joseph Canales. The Trouble Shooters tracked him down, but he told us he didn't get anyone pregnant, then added:
"Whatever happened, happened a long time ago."

And, possibly as disturbing as the abuse, there appears to be a systematic cover-up of the assaults by GEO Group staff and ICE. According to the story,

After the incident report, Canales was fired, but ICE will not tell us if they referred the case for prosecution. The US Attorneys Office told us it has no case against Canales. Still, there are other sexual assaults we've uncovered.
We obtained an email sent by an ICE officer to his supervisors notifying them that a detainee had told him about a GEO sergeant who was having sex with one of the female detainees.

The ICE officer who wrote that e-mail sat down with us, but asked us not to identify him. He said some of the GEO guards prey on the female detainees by lying to them and promising they can help them stay in the United States.

"If they had the opportunity," he explained, "some of the guards were just touching, groping, but if they had the opportunity they had sex with them. The female detainees, a lot of them, were willing because they thought it was...somehow their chances of staying were going to increase. That's not the case whatsoever. If ICE can keep it under wraps, they will keep it under wraps."

To keep it under wraps, he said he was fired for reporting what was going on. And he is not alone. We've also talked to a former GEO guard who said she, too, was fired after reporting sexual abuse.
We obtained an email sent by an ICE officer to his supervisors notifying them that a detainee had told him about a GEO sergeant who was having sex with one of the female detainees.

Clearly, this story is immensely disturbing. It falls on the heels of a New York Times report detailing possible medical neglect and deaths at a series of Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facilities around the country.

Furthermore, it is unfortunately not surprising that these kind of allegations are coming from a GEO Group facility in Texas. The Pearsall detention center was sued for mistreatment of a prisoner last year. Abuse and poor conditions at GEO Group's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center and Dickens County Correctional Center drove the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to look into to private prison oversight last fall and created the need for an interim charge on private prison oversight this spring.

Despite the abuse and mismanagement, GEO continues to win contracts with counties and the federal government, as Nicole reported last month. It's high time we stop contracting with private companies that cover-up physical and sexual abuse of prisoners and detainees. We'll keep you updated on developments from this growing scandal.