The Homeland Security Department is violating the rights of immigrant detainees and treating them inhumanely, according to a new audit from a government watchdog.
The DHS inspector general’s office identified problematic treatment of detainees at four of the five facilities it visited. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, together with state and local government and private contractors, maintains 250 detention facilities to hold immigrants in non-punitive civil detention. The IG identified a range of issues at the facilities it visited, including illegal strip searches, a lack of interpreters and “unsafe and unhealthy” conditions.
“Overall, the problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment and the provision of a safe and healthy environment,” the IG said.
Upon admission to a facility, ICE is required to separate detainees according to the severity of their crimes and conduct a pat down. At some facilities, intake problems and staffing shortages led to failures to properly segregate detained immigrants and prevent contraband from entering. Detainees were not always informed of their rights or medical information in a language they could understand.
The IG found staff at some facilities used intimidation and fear to deter inmates from filing grievances or failed to properly document the complaints. The auditors described a “lack of professionalism” from workers who yelled at detainees, used “disrespectful and inappropriate language” and interrupted Muslim prayers.
The investigation revealed bathrooms in poor condition, including mold, peeling paint and a lack of hot water. At multiple facilities, detainees complained of a lack of basic hygienic products such as toilet paper, soap and toothpaste. The IG also observed spoiled, moldy and expired food in facility kitchens.
The auditors acknowledged the challenges ICE faces in providing treatment and care to the immigrants it detains, such as staffing shortages and the remote locations of some of its facilities. They added that complying with established procedures and protecting detainees’ rights and safety, however, should be paramount.
“ICE has a challenging and highly visible role in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws,” acting Inspector General John Kelly said in a statement accompanying the report. “Just as important is ICE’s role in detaining and housing the undocumented persons it apprehends. Treatment of detainees in ICE facilities should be humane, adhere to all regulations and be above reproach.”
While ICE agreed to conduct a review of its procedures at detention facilities and issue a corrective action report, the agency rejected any implication of negligence. ICE’s compliance with the IG’s recommendation will complement its “already robust inspections program,” said Carissa Cutrell, an agency spokesperson.
“Based on multi-layered, rigorous inspections and oversight programs, ICE is confident in conditions and high standards of care at its detention facilities,” the spokesperson said. “To ensure the safety and well-being of those in our custody, we work regularly with contracted consultants and a variety of external stakeholders to review and improve detention conditions at ICE facilities.”
ICE told the IG its Office of Professional Responsibility and the Detention Standards Compliance Unit oversee facility inspections and conduct followups whenever deficiencies are uncovered.
On Friday at an address before the FBI National Academy, President Trump signaled it would be easier to simply deport the undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity than detain them.
“We will throw you the hell out of the country,” Trump said of those involved in gangs. “Somehow I like that better than jail. Jail we have to take care of them. Who the hell wants to take care of them?”