WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Immigrants held in U.S. detention centers will get extra protection against sexual abuse under regulations finalized on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said.
The new rules will apply to people in immigration detention centers and holding facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
"DHS is committed to upholding a culture that promotes safety and refuses to tolerate abuse," Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. "This rule will strengthen standards in DHS confinement facilities and ensure robust oversight."
A 2003 law that was designed to eliminate rape in U.S. prisons did not apply to immigration detention centers. The Obama administration in May 2012 ordered all federal agencies with detention centers to create rules to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse and to comply with a 2013 law on violence against women, DHS said.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act of last year, praised the move.
"As I have said many times, 'a victim is a victim is a victim,'" the Vermont Democrat said in a statement.
More than 30,000 immigrants are held in federal detention centers on any given day, and rights groups have been highlighting the sexual abuse risk for years.
A 2010 Human Rights Watch report described documented incidents and allegations of abuse at those facilities in Texas, Florida, Washington state, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and California.
The report said it was difficult to gather data on ICE detainees, "but the known incidents and allegations are too serious and too numerous to ignore."
The American Civil Liberties Union in 2011 said "nearly 200 allegations of abuse from detainees in detention facilities across the nation have been fielded by government officials since 2007 alone. And that is likely just the very tip of the iceberg."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis) nL1N0LX2B2