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Sexual Assaults Under-Reported at Immigration Detention Centers

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Updated: 11/20/2013 5:00 pm
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LAURA STRICKLER, PATRICIA ALULEMA / 

CBS NEWS

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has not reported to the Department of Homeland Security headquarters all allegations of sexual assault that happened in their immigrant detention facilities, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO looked at 10 randomly selected facilities around the country and found 42 allegations of sexual assault that were reported -- but they also found 28 allegations that were not reported to headquarters.

In the report, DHS says the reason why they did not report these other incidents is because they thought the incidents were "harassment" rather than assault; or they thought the allegations were "unfounded". But DHS regulations require all allegations to be reported.

ICE told CBS News that the agency has implemented reforms for the facilities starting back in 2009. In an email statement ICE said: "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is deeply committed to eliminating sexual abuse in immigration detention; our zero-tolerance policy is a key part of immigration detention reform, which has been and continues to be an agency priority. ICE has reviewed the findings of the GAO report and, in the time between the initiating of the report and its release, has already implemented a number of steps to further address issues raised by this report."

Eighty-six of the 215 allegations reported to DHS between 2009 and 2013 were against ICE staff members according to the GAO report. GAO says overall 15 of the 215 allegations were substantiated.

The GAO also found that some calls to the DHS Inspector General hotline that is used to report incidents of sexual assault were not answered and the voice mail was full.

GAO conducted the report in response to a 2011 request from 30 members of Congress who had asked for the report in response to a documentary.

According to the GAO, last year 91 percent of ICE detainees were males.

Last week, the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of a Mexican national immigrant named Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, a 40-year-old man who says he was gang raped, presumably after being drugged, in an ICE detention facility in Boulder, Montana on Oct. 5.

In the complaint, Orozco-Ramirez says that he wanted to report the assault in Montana but was unable to find anyone who spoke Spanish at the ICE facility. He said he was unable to get medical attention until two days after the attack. He also says he was also unable to access a telephone to make a complaint.

As a result of the alleged gang rape, Orozco-Ramirez was put on HIV medications to stop any possible infection from occurring. Yet he says when he was moved to a third facility, the Cascade County Jail in Great Falls, Montana, he was unable to get his medication and sought a translator for help. Unable to find a translator at the facility he says he had to resort to calling his 15-year-old son to translate for him.

In response to this case, ICE told CBS News in an email statement: "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes these allegations of sexual assault extremely seriously. We are working closely with Jefferson County (Montana) Sheriff's Office regarding its ongoing investigation. ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is also conducting a separate but related investigation of these very serious allegations. Due to the ongoing nature of these investigations, no further details are available at this time."

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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