tags: , , , , , , AVEF, Press Releases

Horrific Immigration Detention Conditions are “Substantiated” by Multiple DHS Inspector General Reports and Direct Testimony

Share This:

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan claimed that horrific detention conditions for children and adults described by the media at an El Paso border station were “unsubstantiated.”  And, last month McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is hearing only about minor detention condition issues and that “any issue that affects the safety of detainees is addressed immediately.”  

These claims fly in the face of a recent tour by Members of Congress of two border detention facilities where Rep. Joaquin Castro said, “One of the women said she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet.” Some women told the Congressional delegation that “they had been detained for 50 days and others had been separated from their children.” This tour by the Congressional delegation came at the same time ProPublica revealed the existence of a Border Patrol Facebook group where “agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility…and posted a vulgar illustration” of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Moreover, the DHS Inspector General (IG) — the internal government watchdog for DHS — has published nine reports and management alerts over the last two years, one yet-to-be-published report expected shortly (and leaked to Buzzfeed News last week), and another unpublished internal memo that shows a pattern and practice of horrific conditions for children and adults in immigration detention.   

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said:  “In case there is any confusion or misunderstanding about the abhorrent conditions in detention, the DHS Inspector General has been clear that conditions have not only been poor, they have been deteriorating into the horrifying. The Acting Secretary should read and review the multiple reports from his own internal watchdog before he tells Congress and the public that reports of horrific conditions by the IG, the media, and Members of Congress visiting facilities are ‘unsubstantiated.’  Clearly, he is wrong.”

David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “Years ago I represented a man who’d suffered torture while locked up in Sudan. The immigration judge found in my client’s favor specifically finding that the only source of water provided my client by his captors was from the toilet in his cell.  Today I ask myself what has our country become when women and children in CBP custody are caged in squalor without soap and toothbrushes, forced to drink water from toilets? These conditions are normally associated with brutal prisons run by despotic regimes, not civil detention facilities in the United States of America.”

Brief Summaries of Published and Unpublished Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Reports, Management Alerts and Internal Memos

NBC News obtained an internal memo of a May 7 tour by the IG of an El Paso border station and here is what was found:  

  • “…only four showers were available for 756 immigrants, more than half of the immigrants were being held outside, and immigrants inside were being kept in cells maxed out at more than five times their capacity.”
  • “Border agents remained armed in holding areas because they were worried about the potential for unrest.”
  • “A cell meant for a maximum of 35 held 155 adult males with only one toilet and sink. The cell was so crowded the men could not lie down to sleep.”
  • “‘With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks.’” 
  • “Agents reported taking sick migrants to the hospital five times a day, treating 75 immigrants for lice in a single day and trying to quarantine outbreaks of flu, chickenpox and scabies.”

Last week, Buzzfeed obtained a draft DHS IG report that showed the following:  

  • “At the centralized processing center in McAllen, Texas, 165 unaccompanied children had been in detention for longer than a week as they awaited to be sent to shelters that care for immigrant kids. More than 50 of them were younger than 7 years old, and some of them had waited more than two weeks in border facilities.”
  • “Some kids were being held in closed cells. There was severe overcrowding.”
  • “The data showed that 826 of the 2,669 children held at the border facilities were in custody longer than the 72 hours mandated by court orders.”
  • “In one facility, officials found some single adults in standing room–only conditions for a week while others were held in overcrowded cells for more than a month.”
  • “Some adults were held in standing room–only conditions for a week.”
  • “There was little access to hot showers or hot food for families and children in some facilities.”
  • “At two facilities, children and families did not have hot meals until the week the inspectors arrived.”
  • “Most single adults had not showered for nearly a month while in CBP custody, the report said. Instead, wet wipes were handed out to maintain hygiene.”
  • “[C]hildren had only a limited change of clothes.”
  • “‘When detainees observed us, they banged on the cell windows, shouted, pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody (e.g. beards).’” 

June 2019 – Unannounced visits to four ICE detention facilities revealed the following:

  • “[W]e observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards at facilities in Adelanto, CA, and Essex County, NJ, including nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues.”
  • “All four facilities had issues with expired food, which puts detainees at risk for food-borne illnesses.” 
  • “At three facilities, we found that segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights.” 
  • “Two facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units.”
  • “Bathrooms in two facilities’ detainee housing units were dilapidated and moldy.” 
  • “At one facility, detainees were not provided appropriate clothing and hygiene items to ensure they could properly care for themselves.” 
  • “[O]ne facility allowed only non-contact visits, despite being able to accommodate in-person visitation.” 
  • “Our observations confirmed concerns identified in detainee grievances, which indicated unsafe and unhealthy conditions to varying degrees at all of the facilities we visited.”

May 2019 – One week of unannounced visits to five Border Patrol stations and two ports of entry in the El Paso area revealed:

  • DHS was housing 6 to 7 times the maximum capacity of detainees.
  • Some detainees “in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks….”
  • “[D]etainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets….”
  • “[S]taff discarding…detainee property, such as backpacks, suitcases, and handbags, in the nearby dumpster.”  
  • “Although CBP headquarters management has been aware of the situation at PDT for months and detailed staff to assist with custody management, DHS has not identified a process to alleviate issues with overcrowding at PDT.” 
  • While DHS agreed to take corrective action, the IG was unimpressed with DHS’ timeline for resolution – one and a half years – and said it would continue inspections until the issue was resolved more swiftly since, as the IG stated, detainees “cannot continue to be held in standing-room-only conditions.”    

February 2019 – An unannounced visit to Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey revealed:

  • “[A] number of serious issues that violate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards and pose significant health and safety risks at the facility.” 
  • “Specifically, we are concerned about the following issues: 
    • Unreported Security Incidents 
    • Food Safety Issues 
    • Facility Conditions”

January 2019 – A review of ICE contracting tools revealed serious deficiencies in holding ICE contracted detention facilities accountable:

  • “ICE fails to consistently include its quality assurance surveillance plan (QASP) in facility contracts. The QASP provides tools for ensuring facilities meet performance standards. Only 28 out of 106 contracts we reviewed contained the QASP.” 
  • “Instead of holding facilities accountable through financial penalties, ICE issued waivers to facilities with deficient conditions, seeking to exempt them from complying with certain standards. We analyzed the 68 waiver requests submitted between September 2016 and July 2018. Custody Management approved 96 percent of these requests, including waivers of safety and security standards.”
  • “However, ICE has no formal policies and procedures to govern the waiver process, has allowed officials without clear authority to grant waivers, and does not ensure key stakeholders have access to approved waivers.” 
  • “Further, the organizational placement and overextension of contracting officer’s representatives impede monitoring of facility contracts. 
  • “Finally, ICE does not adequately share information about ICE detention contracts with key officials.”

September 2018 – A management alert regarding the Adelanto ICE processing Center described many of the same concerns raised in the June 2019 report regarding four other facilities:

  • “Nooses in Detainee Cells” 
  • “Improper and Overly Restrictive Segregation” 
  • “Untimely and Inadequate Detainee Medical Care”

June 2018 – A report explaining that ICE’s inspections and monitoring systems do not lead to “sustained compliance or systemic improvements.”  Specifically, the report states:

  • “[I]nspections [do not] ensure consistent compliance with detention standards, nor do they promote comprehensive deficiency corrections. Specifically, the scope of ICE’s contracted inspections is too broad; ICE’s guidance on procedures is unclear; and the contractor’s inspection practices are not consistently thorough. As a result, the inspections do not fully examine actual conditions or identify all deficiencies.” 
  • “In contrast, ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight uses effective practices to thoroughly inspect facilities and identify deficiencies, but these inspections are too infrequent to ensure the facilities implement all deficiency corrections.” 
  • “Moreover, ICE does not adequately follow up on identified deficiencies or consistently hold facilities accountable for correcting them, which further diminishes the usefulness of inspections.” 
  • “Although ICE’s inspections, follow-up processes, and onsite monitoring of facilities help correct some deficiencies, they do not ensure adequate oversight or systemic improvements in detention conditions, with some deficiencies remaining unaddressed for years.”

December 2017 – IG inspection of five detention facilities “raised concerns about the treatment and care of ICE detainees at four of the facilities,” specifically:

  • “[P]roblems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” 
  • “Upon entering some facilities, detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history.” 
  • “[I]n violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip searched.” 
  • “Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees.” 
  • “Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances.” 
  • “Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation.” 
  • “Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.”

September 2017 – A “sample of ICE segregation data and visits to seven [ICE detention] facilities” revealed failed systems to ensure the safety and health of detainees with mental health conditions in segregation.  A year and half later, NBC News reported that the situation is even worse than the IG reported.  The IG found:  

  • Although detention facilities were generally following ICE guidance on documenting and reporting segregation decisions on detainees with mental health conditions, “ICE field offices we reviewed did not record and promptly report all instances of segregation to ICE headquarters, nor did their system properly reflect all required reviews of ongoing segregation cases per ICE guidance.”
  • “In addition, ICE does not regularly compare segregation data in the electronic management system with information at detention facilities to assess the accuracy and reliability of data in the system.”
  • “ICE field office review and reporting of segregation of individual detainees with mental health conditions is important to ensuring the protection of detainees and facility staff, providing the best alternative for detainees with mental health conditions, and mitigating the risk of deterioration in detainees’ mental health.”
  • “Unless ICE field offices comply with requirements to report and record these reviews, ICE headquarters cannot be sure required reviews are taking place and may not have all the information needed to assess the use of segregation, which could put detainees and facility staff at risk of harm.”   

March 2017 – A management alert requiring “immediate action” at the Theo Lacy Facility (TLF) revealed many of the same problems the IG found in several other future reports described above:

  • “Food handling at TLF poses health risks.”
  • “Unsatisfactory conditions and services at the facility, including moldy and mildewed shower stalls, refuse in cells, and inoperable phones.”
  • “Some ‘high-risk’ detainees are in less restrictive barracks-style housing and some ‘low-risk’ detainees are in more restrictive housing modules; the basis for housing decisions is not adequately documented.”
  • “Contrary to ICE detention standards, inspectors observed high-risk detainees and low-risk detainees together in parts of TLF. Although detainees were purportedly identified by classification level, this was not apparent to the inspectors.”
  • “Moves from less restrictive barracks to more restrictive housing modules are not explained to detainees, nor are detainees given the opportunity to appeal changes, as required by ICE detention standards.”
  • “[The contracted facility’s] more restrictive disciplinary segregation violates ICE detention standards.”
  • “Neither ICE nor [the contracted facility] properly documents grievances from detainees to ensure resolution, notification of resolution, and opportunities to appeal.”