ICE deported a key witness in investigation of sexual assault and harassment at El Paso detention center

The U.S. government late Monday deported a crucial witness in an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at an El Paso immigrant detention center, the witness’ lawyers said.

The 35-year-old woman has been held in the facility, which is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for about a year and told lawyers about a “pattern and practice” of abuse there, including that guards systematically assaulted her and other detainees in areas that were not visible to security cameras.

Several guards “forcibly” kissed her, and at least one touched her intimate parts, often as she was walking back from the medical unit to her barrack, according to her complaint filed with law enforcement agencies.

“If she behaved,” she said one guard told her, “he would help her be released.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into the accusations after ProPublica and The Texas Tribune first reported them last month. At least two more women have since come forward with similar allegations of assault.

The inspector general requested that ICE not deport the woman and the FBI interviewed the woman extensively, according to her lawyers. Her attorneys also sent a complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas and the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office, warning of a potential criminal investigation.

Those government agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jeanette Harper, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s El Paso office, said the agency’s policy prevents it from commenting on an ongoing investigation. She said the lead agency into the woman’s allegations is now the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which oversees accusations of civil rights abuses. That office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Last Friday, lawyers filed a habeas petition in federal court asking that the woman be freed on supervised release and held in an immigrant shelter in El Paso.

By Lomi Kriel for THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
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