Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan gives a tour of a Texas migrant holding facility to CBS News on July 17, 2019. (DHS photo by Tim D. Godbee)

ICE Oversight Approach Misses ‘a Range of Deficiencies’ at Detention Facilities, OIG Tells Congress

The “volume of new and repeat deficiencies” in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities “raises questions about the overall effectiveness of ICE’s multi-layered oversight approach,” a DHS Office of Inspector General official told lawmakers.

Testifying last week before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability, Assistant Inspector General for Special Reviews and Evaluations Diana Shaw said ICE’s oversight policies, which include on-site monitoring and inspections of more than 200 facilities housing about 54,000 detainees, “resulted in the identification and correction of numerous instances of noncompliance with detention standards.”

OIG’s unannounced inspections, conducted since fiscal year 2016, “have identified a range of deficiencies, including unreported security incidents, dangerous mishandling of food, dilapidated physical conditions, and unaddressed security risks.”

“For instance, the OIG staff found that staff at the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey had failed to report to ICE a loaded handgun discovered by a detainee in a facility bathroom. At the Adelanto processing center in California, a facility at which at least seven suicide attempts by hanging were made in less than a year, OIG inspectors observed braided bedsheets, referred to as nooses by center staff and detainees, in 15 of the 20 cells we visited,” Shaw said. “Serious issues like these raise questions about the effectiveness of ICE’s multi-layered approach and prompted the OIG to review the entities involved in providing oversight at each layer.”

ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight inspects about 30 facilities a year but overall inspections “are relatively infrequent, making it difficult for ODO to ensure that facilities are addressing all deficiencies.”

“ICE continues to spend millions of dollars on detention oversight without achieving comprehensive, consistent compliance. ICE can and should be doing more. For instance, ICE does not fully utilize tools available to it to drive compliance among its contractors,” Shaw continued. “Our recent review of ICE’s management of detention contracts found that ICE is failing to use quality assurance tools and impose consequences for contract noncompliance. Moreover, we found that instead of holding facilities accountable through available financial penalties, ICE frequently issued waivers to deficient facilities, exempting them from having to comply with detention standards.”

Tae Johnson, assistant director for Custody and Management, Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE, told the committee that “detainees placed in ICE custody represent virtually every nation on earth, have various security classification and threat levels, and often arrive in ERO custody with complex detention and medical needs,” and ERO “takes the health, safety, and general welfare of its detained population extremely seriously and is committed to continually evaluating and improving the care detainees receive.”

“Through a robust inspection’s program, the agency ensures detention facilities used to house ICE detainees do so in accordance with ICE national detention standards, which are often much more rigorous than those that apply to other detained populations,” he said. “These standards were promulgated in cooperation with ICE stakeholders, the American Correctional Association, and representatives of non-governmental organizations to ensure that all individuals in ICE custody are treated with dignity and respect and provided the best possible care.”

ICE is currently conducting annual and biannual inspections “of all facilities over a certain population and utilizes a self-inspection process for facilities with small populations or those that house detainees for under 72 hours.”

“When deficiencies are found during any type of inspection, ERO works with field offices and facilities to ensure timely and corrective actions are implemented,” Johnson said. “ICE greatly appreciates the work conducted by the OIG regarding the inspection process and carefully evaluates its recommendations.”

In relation to OIG’s latest findings, Johnson said ICE is “re-evaluating the existing inspection scope and methodology in the statement of work for its inspections contract to ensure inspection procedures are adequately and appropriately to fully evaluate detention conditions.”

“ICE has also created a quality assurance team, consisting of seasoned federal employees to perform quality assurance reviews of ICE’s contract inspections during each annual inspection,” he added. “ICE is also developing follow-up inspections processes for select facilities where egregious or numerous deficiencies identified, updating and enhancing current procedures to ensure verification of all corrective actions, including better tracking of all corrective actions by facility and responsible field office, as well as developing protocols for ERO offices to require facilities to implement formal corrective action plans resulting from deficiencies identified from its on-site monitors.”

Shaw explained that a primary issue the OIG has with ICE detention oversight “is really a process one, ensuring that there is adequate follow-up, that there’s documentation to support claims by the facilities that they’ve implemented corrective action.”

“I’d like to have more staff at our larger facilities to make sure we have that on-site presence to monitor conditions each day,” Johnson said. “So certainly, the staff would be welcome.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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