U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does a poor job of managing its detention facilities that hold tens of thousands of immigrants awaiting hearings, rarely holds contractors accountable for lapsed standards and informally grants too many waivers to allow facility managers to avoid making repairs, a new report from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general found.
From October 2015 to June 2018, “ICE paid contractors operating the 106 detention facilities subject to this review more than $3 billion,” the inspector general wrote in its conclusion. “Despite documentation of thousands of deficiencies and instances of serious harm to detainees that occurred at these detention facilities, ICE rarely imposed financial penalties.”
The 211 detention facilities that ICE manages, some of them directly and others indirectly under contract with local jails or the U.S. Marshals Service, house on average 35,000 detainees every day. The IG report looked at 106 of the facilities.
The report found that ICE managers too often used a very informal “waiver” program to excuse deficiencies, which allowed ICE facilities to fall short of national detention center standards.
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In one case, a waiver allowed a detention facility to use tear gas for control of detainees even though the detention standard allows only the use of the much less toxic pepper spray.
“Another waiver,” the inspector general wrote, “allows a facility to commingle high-custody detainees, who have histories of serious criminal offenses, with low-custody detainees, who have minor, nonviolent criminal histories or only immigration violations, which is a practice the standards prohibit in order to protect detainees who may be at risk of victimization or assault.”
“Without formal waiver guidance and review processes, ICE may be indefinitely allowing contract facilities to circumvent detention standards intended to assure the safety, security, and rights of detainees,” the IG wrote.
The report also found that the Contracting Officer’s Representatives, who do the day-to-day oversight of ICE facilities, are overstretched, managing too many facilities and asked to do other duties that interfere with proper contract management.
The watchdog recommended that ICE develop policies and procedures to ensure that officials responsible for contract oversight have access to information necessary to do their jobs and receive adequate guidance about the actions available to them when contract standards are not met. In addition, the watchdog recommended that ICE develop protocols to ensure that all existing and future waivers are approved by ICE officials who have the authority to grant them.
ICE concurred with all of the watchdog recommendations and proposed steps to update processes and guidance regarding contracting tools used to hold detention facility contractors accountable for failing to meet performance standards.
“ICE is committed to continually enhancing civil detention operations to promote a safe and secure environment for both detainees and staff,” Stephen A. Roncone, ICE’s chief financial officer, said in a letter to Inspector General John V. Kelly.
ICE has come under fire in the recent months for the treatment of detainees in their facilities. The May 2018 death of Rosa Hernandez, a transgender Honduran woman who died in ICE custody, sparked outrage from immigration advocates and Democrats, who have accused the Trump administration of inadequately caring for detainees. The American Immigration Lawyers Association found that more than a dozen individuals have died in ICE custody since 2015.
Late in 2018 two immigrant children died while in Border Patrol custody, incidents that members of Congress have promised to investigate.