Press Releases

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would ensure the prosecution of anyone who sexually abuses a person held in custody by the federal government. 

Senator Feinstein’s amendment would close a loophole that prevents criminal penalties from being filed against anyone who sexually abuses a minor or any other undocumented immigrant detained by the Department of Homeland Security or Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

“Federal law only provides criminal penalties for the sexual abuse of a person detained by the Department of Justice.  But that agency hasn’t been responsible for detaining immigrants since 2003,” Senator Feinstein said.  “We must close this loophole in federal law.  If a minor or other undocumented person is being sexually abused in any federal facility, we must be able to prosecute those cases.”

This problem was most recently highlighted when 72 children were transferred out of the Nixon, Texas, detention facility overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement amid allegations that numerous children had been sexually abused.  The Justice Department could not pursue these allegations because it was no longer a federal crime. 

Current federal law only provides criminal penalties for someone one who sexually abuses a minor or ward who is held “in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the Attorney General.” 

The loophole in federal law was created when, in March 2003, the responsibility for detaining immigrants was moved from the Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Department of Homeland Security. 

Additionally, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 allowed for the transfer of responsibility for the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Senator Feinstein’s amendment would expand the federal jurisdiction for these crimes to include anyone who sexually abuses another held in federal custody (regardless of which federal agency has authority over the detained person). 

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