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Abuse of Women Detainees at Krome Prompts Federal Inquiry
by Carl R. Baldwin

On January 2, 2001 The New York Times reported that the INS has adopted “new standards” for the treatment of aliens held in Service Processing Centers and other detention centers under its jurisdiction. According to Doris Meissner, the INS Commissioner who recently resigned, “Our continued goal is to provide safe, secure, and humane conditions of detention for all aliens in INS custody.” The enormous gulf between this stated goal and the past and present grim reality is made clear by a review of the scandalous conditions at one of the INS Service Processing Centers.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with the assistance of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, are investigating allegations of the rampant abuse of women detainees by INS employees at the Krome Service Processing Center outside Miami. The Commission, which visited the Center on two occasions during the year 2000 and undertook extensive interviews of current and former women detainees, has issued a report entitled “Behind Locked Doors: Abuse of Refugee Women at the Krome Detention Center.” Reading the report is a disturbing experience.

The Commission’s research “reveals widespread sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse of detainees, especially women…Sexual abuses ranging from rape to sexual molestation and harassment have been occurring repeatedly at the hands of at least 15 male officers…Threats of deportation, transfer to county jails, or even death were leveled at women who dared to resist or complain of such abuses.” This shocking report raises some questions. How could the INS have hired and retained personnel at a Service Processing Center who would think nothing of making sexual advances to women detainees, and then going so far as to threaten them with deportation or death if they did not comply with their sexual demands? Why did the INS not discover these abuses long ago on its own initiative, rather than waiting for a high-level federal investigation? The Commission urges that the INS “aggressively pursue prosecution or disciplinary action against every officer involved in sexual abuses against women detained in the Krome facility and immediately take every step necessary to ensure that such abuses are never repeated at Krome or any other detention center. Nothing less is acceptable from a country that prides itself for its strong refugee tradition and generous immigration policies.”

The INS states that disciplinary action has already been taken against some of the guards involved in the abuses. But the Commission reported that many of the guards who were named by detainees as perpetrators of abuse are still at their posts. It was a hopeful sign that Attorney General Janet Reno had stated her intention to pursue the investigation. But her term in office is over, and we cannot know whether the next Attorney General will feel that it is a law enforcement priority to protect the human rights of aliens detained at Service Processing Centers.

Interpreter Releases for January 8, 2001 reported that the INS has moved 90 women detainees from Krome to county jails, “to ensure those detainees the most safe, secure, and humane conditions possible.” The move prompted one critic to comment: “Where else in the United States do you jail the people who were sexually abused rather than the people who committed the abuse?”

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be rached by e-mail at

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," 1997, Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010 (212) 777-8395. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered in both an English Edition and a Spanish version from

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