SAN ANTONIO — Department of Homeland Security investigators have found no evidence of sexual abuse and harassment at a South Texas immigration lockup that houses women and children, according to a report released Friday.
The inspector general launched the investigation after a woman being held at the facility in Karnes City reported hearing rumors about women being removed from their cells at night to have sex with guards in the laundry room. Investigators interviewed 33 people and spent 380 hours investigating several allegations made by the woman, all of which were found to be untrue, according to the report.
Women interviewed by investigators denied engaging in sexual activity with guards and said they received no preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors, according to the report. Allegations that a detainee was impregnated by a guard were determined to be false after she voluntarily submitted to a pregnancy test that turned up negative, the report said.
A review of 360 hours of surveillance video footage from the laundry room also failed to show any women being escorted there after hours. And investigators found no evidence that guards had deposited money into the commissary accounts of the women or paid for rental of apartments upon their release.
The report did find that two guards were romantically involved and had engaged in "inappropriate physical contact" in the laundry room while working, but prosecutors concluded they had not violated any law.
Attorneys with two civil rights groups and a San Antonio-based law firm also filed a complaint last October after Karnes City detainees reported that women had been removed from their cells at night to have sex with guards and were promised money or legal help with their pending cases in exchange for sexual favors.
It is not clear whether that complaint factored into the investigation, as Friday's report contains no mention of it.
Marisa Bono, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the organizations that filed the complaint, said she was not sure whether the report represented the end of the matter, adding: "It's difficult to say whether that investigation was sufficient."
Bono said the methods used in the investigation need to be made clear, including whether male investigators interviewed the women, whether the women felt secure to disclose information without fear of retaliation, and whether the women's attorneys were present during questioning.
"These are critical details that could undermine the outcome of this investigation," she said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen said in a statement that the report shows the agency is "committed to providing a safe and secure environment to all individuals in custody."
In response to the surge of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border last summer, the 500 bed all-male Karnes facility, about 50 miles southeast of San Antonio, was converted into one that housed women and children. In December, ICE also opened the nation's largest family detention center, a 2,400 bed facility in Dilley, southwest of San Antonio. Both facilities are run by private companies but overseen by ICE.