During unannounced inspections in August 2021 of four U.S. Border Patrol facilities in the San Diego sector, and two Office of Field Operations (OFO) ports of entry, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) observed that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) generally operated in compliance with National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS).
OIG found that there were instances of prolonged detention among single adults, but conditions were not overcrowded and detainees had room to sit or lie down. OIG previously reported on the challenges that CBP faced at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley area
OIG also verified accessibility to water, food, toilets, sinks, basic hygiene supplies, and bedding at San Diego sector facilities. Both Border Patrol and OFO also “generally met” TEDS standards for medical care. With one exception, OIG observed clean facilities. Temperatures and ventilation in the holding rooms were found to be appropriate. In addition, all standards for noncitizen unaccompanied children were met at the time of observation.
OIG said two local factors contributed to CBP compliance with TEDS standards: encounter numbers; and initiatives to centralize processing. Border Patrol created a Centralized Processing Center (CPC), dedicating a Border Patrol compound (Chula Vista station and Barracks 5) to process family units for release and a Border Patrol station (Imperial Beach) to process noncitizen unaccompanied children for transfer to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. OFO also consolidated local immigration processing and temporary detention at the San Ysidro port of entry. One Border Patrol official told OIG that before they created a CPC, agents processed an average of 30 cases a day. With the CPC, the Border Patrol official said they were able to process 150 cases a day with the same number of agents.
The watchdog notes however that despite efforts to streamline immigration processes, CBP faces challenges over which it has limited control. For example, providing interpreters for a diverse population throughout the detention process is difficult. To assist with interpretation, CBP has telephonic interpreter services. OIG also observed staff using sign language and cellphone translation applications for basic communication. However, the watchdog says there are “inherent limitations” to such methods, and providing interpreters for a linguistically diverse population throughout the detention process is a challenge. Specifically, OIG auditors were able to use CBP’s telephonic interpreter services to obtain an interpreter for the Russian language quickly but had more difficulty securing interpreters for West African languages. In addition, some of the detainees OIG spoke to said some of the processes were not explained to them. For example, some detainees said searches of their persons or the process for retrieving property were not explained.
CBP is dependent on other DHS components and Federal agencies to limit the duration of detention. For example, Border Patrol officials told OIG that some single adults waiting for transfer into U.S. Imigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody were held longer than a week. The delays occurred because ICE attempted to limit the spread of COVID-19 in its local facility by accepting a group of detainees from CBP custody every 10 days.
OIG previously reported on the response to the migration surge. Its 2019 report made six recommendations, some of which have been implemented with others due for completion within the coming weeks. The watchdog made no new recommendations as a result of its site visits in August 2021.