Border Agency Improves Handling of Unaccompanied Minors

Donna Burton/Customs and Border Protection

Customs and Border Protection has improved its handling of the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the Southwest U.S. border, a watchdog said in a memo released Monday after several unannounced visits to makeshift detention facilities.

Updating an assessment of a situation that had drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates over unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and slow legal processing of undocumented immigrants, Homeland Security Department Inspector General John Roth, reported, however, some recurring problems in health and training as the number of detainees in Texas and New Mexico dropped during August and September.

“During one routine spot inspection, we observed that CBP personnel did not properly segregate a [child] with a communicable disease,” Roth wrote in an Oct. 2 memo to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “They also did not ensure that food and water were readily available. CBP rotated personnel during a period when there had been no [children] in the facility for a month. As a result of this rotation, the personnel responsible for the [unaccompanied children] were not familiar with procedures.”

But after a second inspection a week later, the CBP had compiled a list of personnel familiar with procedures who were on call, and by then, “food and water were readily available and the station had addressed all issues from the previous spot inspection,” the memo said. A DHS dietician is scheduled to assess food choices to balance requests for a more familiar diet with nutritional guidelines, and nutritional meals, snacks, milk and fresh fruit are now available.

The surprise inspections—slated to continue—grew out of a June complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union about criminal and civil rights abuses. The complaint was filed on behalf of  116 unaccompanied children.

In an update, the October memo stated that of “16 allegations that our office investigated, we were unable to substantiate any of the allegations of misconduct. Investigations of the remaining 100 cases are continuing under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs, and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.”

Some of the health inadequacies, the memo noted, stemmed from the detainees’ own situations. “Many detainees do not follow up with recommended medical care for themselves or their children,” it said. “If detainees do not attend sick call or stand in line to receive daily medications, they remain sick and their illnesses tend to get worse.”

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