This May 29, 2019 photo released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows some of 1,036 migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, the largest group that the Border Patrol says it has ever encountered.

This May 29, 2019 photo released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows some of 1,036 migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, the largest group that the Border Patrol says it has ever encountered. CBP photo via AP

Surprise Inspections Reveal Widespread Violations at Immigrant Detention Facilities

Poor conditions add to the expanding list of crises caused by the influx of migrants at the souther border.

Conditions at four detention facilities contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were so poor they violated the agency’s standards and put immigrants at risk, federal investigators found during surprise visits.

Besides expired food and dilapidated bathrooms, the investigators found detainees were subject to inhumane segregation and restraint, and lacked outdoor recreation time, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said. The report followed an interim report last year from the IG that found nooses formed from sheets in most cells holding males and inadequate access to medical care, among other violations, at a facility operated by the GEO Group in Adelanto, Calif.

Adelanto was one of three facilities operated by GEO the IG inspected in its new report. The other was maintained by the Essex County Department of Corrections in New Jersey.

“Overall, our inspections of the four detention facilities revealed violations of ICE’s detention standards and raised concerns about the environment in which detainees are held,” the IG said. “Our observations confirmed concerns identified in detainee grievances, which indicated unsafe and unhealthy conditions to varying degrees at all of the facilities we visited.”

The IG found spoiled and moldy food in the refrigerators at some facilities and observed such violations as raw chicken fat leaking onto other food items. In Essex County, the problems were so egregious that the facility replaced the kitchen manager during the investigator’s visit.

Some facilities prematurely subjected detainees to segregated detention, the IG said, and broke rules by cutting their recreation, conducting strip searches and placing the separated inmates in handcuffs. In some facilities, detainees were never provided outdoor recreation time at all.

In some bathrooms, the IG found “unusable toilets” and pervasive mold on virtually all surfaces. Facilities did not give detainees toiletries, as required, with officials improperly telling the IG the items should be purchased. At least one facility failed to provide detainees with suitably-sized clothing, supplying only 4X sizes. Another prohibited in-person visits, despite ICE standards requiring they be allowed.

The findings come as the Trump administration is struggling to handle an unprecedented surge of families entering the country through the southern border, straining the government’s capacity to provide beds and care for detainees. Customs and Border Protection apprehended or deemed inadmissible more than 144,000 individuals at the southwest border in May, according to new statistics the agency released this week, a 32% increase from the previous month and a 182% spike from May 2018. Nearly 85,000 of that total were with family members.

The White House has requested $4.5 billion in emergency funding to support operations at the southern border. Democrats have accused the Trump administration of playing politics with the migrant surge instead of offering workable solutions, but have indicated they are willing to provide a spending surge with certain strings attached. 

“These numbers are yet another sign that the Trump administration's border security and immigration policies are abject failures,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. “We have a full-blown humanitarian crisis, which is being exacerbated by the administration's inhumane treatment of migrants in custody.”

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, pointed the finger at Democrats for refusing to quickly approve emergency funding and forcing the administration to scramble to allocate existing resources to address the issue.

In the meantime, ICE told the IG it has taken remedial steps at all four of the facilities identified in its report and vowed to ensure better oversight of its standards at contract facilities through its field office staff. The Health and Human Services Department, which would receive some of the $4.5 billion under Trump’s proposed spending surge to house migrant children, announced it was canceling English classes, recreational programs and other services not considered essential to protecting life and safety due to dwindling resources.  

An HHS spokeswoman told CNN the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement “is functioning as if it were in a government shutdown as of this week.”