The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has policies and processes for managing and overseeing detention facilities’ use of segregated housing, but information used for oversight is inconsistent.
ICE detention facilities can, under certain circumstances, place detained noncitizens in segregated housing—one or two-person cells separate from the general population—for up to 24 hours per day. ICE requires field offices to provide headquarters documentation with explanations of segregated housing placements. However, GAO found that this supporting documentation does not always contain sufficient detail explaining the circumstances leading to placements. Further, although ICE requires field offices to report any placement involving an individual identified as vulnerable—such as those with medical or mental health conditions—segregated housing data did not always identify vulnerable detained noncitizens.
GAO’s analysis of segregated housing placement data indicates that ICE made 14,581 segregated housing placements from fiscal years 2017 through 2021. About 40 percent of these placements were for disciplinary reasons, such as drug possession, and about 60 percent were for administrative reasons, such as protective custody or medical reasons. Available data also indicated that ICE placed individuals belonging to vulnerable populations in segregated housing from fiscal years 2017 through 2021 for various reasons and durations.
According to GAO, segregated housing-related complaints to ICE increased from 2017 through 2019, before decreasing from 2020 to 2021. However, the watchdog said ICE does not conduct ongoing analyses of segregated housing-related complaints from various ICE offices or require its field offices to record resolutions of those complaints. In 2020, GAO recommended that ICE conduct comprehensive and ongoing analyses of detention-related complaints and require its field offices to record any actions taken on, and resolutions of these complaints. ICE concurred and GAO acknowledged that the agency is taking some steps to address them.
GAO has recommended that ICE provide specific guidance to Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices for segregated housing documentation, and identify all known detained noncitizens in vulnerable populations as defined in segregated housing policy. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurred and said ICE is currently in the process of updating its segregated housing directive. DHS also plans to implement a new data system, in which ICE will migrate disparate systems to a shared data platform. According to DHS, this new data system will include a requirement to identify when a noncitizen is identified in another system or tracker as having one or more vulnerabilities.
GAO’s report follows the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) findings from twelve months ago that concluded ICE did not always comply with segregation reporting requirements. It was the first time OIG has conducted a systemic review on the oversight of detainees placed in segregation. OIG determined ICE did not maintain evidence showing it considered alternatives to segregation for 72 percent of segregation placements; record 13 percent of the segregation placements as required; and ensure detention facilities complied with records retention schedules. OIG attributed the failings to a lack of oversight and clear policies and made several recommendations. ICE concurred and at the time set a completion date of August 31, 2022 to meet these.