Press Releases

Washington, DC – The Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill includes language drafted by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to ensure that anyone who sexually abuses a person being held in federal custody can be fully prosecuted under federal law. 

Senator Feinstein’s measure closes a loophole in current federal law that prevents criminal penalties from being filed against anyone who sexually abuses a minor, undocumented immigrant, or other person detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Refugee Resettlement or any other federal agency. 

“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.  “The language included in the Omnibus bill closes this loophole in federal law.  If a minor, undocumented immigrant or any other person is being sexually abused in a federal facility, we will now be able to prosecute those cases to the fullest extent.”

This problem was most recently highlighted when 72 minors were transferred from the care of a Nixon, Texas detention facility overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement amid allegations of sexual abuse.  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 measure expands 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).