During an unannounced inspection of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s South Texas Processing Center in Pearsall, Texas, between September and October 2021, the Office of Inspector General identified violations of ICE detention standards that compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees.
OIG found that South Texas complied with standards for legal services, the voluntary work program, and detainee classification and provided sufficient medical care to detainees. However, the inspectors found that South Texas did not meet standards for grievances, segregation, COVID-19 response, or communications with detainees. Specifically, the facility was late responding to grievances and did not document grievance resolutions. Grievances included complaints about mistreatment by staff, some of which the facility substantiated. OIG called for ICE to establish a grievance tracking system to ensure timely responses to all detainee grievances filed at South Texas, with a complete grievance log. ICE said South Texas has since updated its procedures to no longer grant extensions when responding to grievances so that South Texas staff provide a response within five calendar days. Additionally, the grievance tracking log will be modified to clearly capture the grievance disposition and outcome to properly document the resolution. ICE will provide OIG copies of the weekly grievance logs by June 30, 2022.
Also, OIG said South Texas did not consistently provide required services for detainees in segregation, including access to legal materials and razors; nor were inspectors able to confirm the facility consistently provided access to legal calls, mail, commissary, and linen exchange due to missing documentation of these activities in facility records. SInce the inspection, ICE has made corrections to ensure South Texas’ compliance with standards, including documentation of access to mail and commissary services and updated policy for use of restraints. ICE also indicated it provided staff training on segregation. OIG expects to receive evidence in support of these changes by June 30, 2022.
In addressing COVID-19, OIG found South Texas did not consistently enforce precautions including the use of masks and social distancing but did begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to detainees through partnerships with local governments. OIG recommended improvements in this area and ICE was found to have met this requirement by the time OIG’s report was released.
The watchdog also found that ICE and the facility did not consistently respond to detainee requests in a timely manner and ICE did not log requests sent by detainees using paper forms. Following the inspection, ICE has demonstrated that it has since implemented a staff-detainee communication policy at South Texas to ensure staff provides timely responses to detainee requests.
Finally, OIG determined the diminished detainee population at South Texas resulted in ICE paying roughly $18 million for unused bed space for a 1-year period under a guaranteed minimum contract. The Inspector General recommended that ICE determine housing requirements based on COVID-19 protocols and guaranteed minimums outlined in the contract, which it has since done.