During an unannounced inspection of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Port Isabel Service Processing Center (Port Isabel) in Los Fresnos, Texas, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that Port Isabel complied with standards for the voluntary work program, access to legal services, and medical care for detainees. However, Port Isabel did not meet standards for detainee segregation, and inspectors found unsafe conditions at the building used to house segregated detainees.
Port Isabel, a service processing center, first opened in 1977.The facility is owned by ICE, which also provides onsite management. While ICE provides daily facility operations, the contractor, Ahtna Support and Training Services, LLC, provides food service to the facility, and medical care is provided by ICE Health Service Corps. At the start of OIG’s inspection, Port Isabel housed a total of 512 male ICE detainees.
In the housing units, OIG identified some concerns, specifically torn bedding and several plumbing issues, that violated standards and posed health and safety risks to detainees. During the inspection, half of the building was cordoned off with a sheet of plywood due to previously documented structural integrity issues, and neither detainees nor staff were permitted on that side. Because a large area was not accessible, detainees did not have access to television and indoor recreation activities and could not communicate with facility staff and ICE by submitting requests and grievances through paper forms. During OIG’s inspection, facility staff relocated the request and grievance boxes to the operational side of the segregation housing unit, allowing detainees to submit requests and grievances, as required.
In addition, inspectors found violations of standards related to use of force, requests and grievances, classification documentation, and adherence to COVID-19 protocols. For example, OIG said detainees were being handcuffed on a routine basis, which contradicts standards. Inspectors observed guards handcuffing a detainee in segregation for every activity requiring him to be outside of his cell. For example, OIG observed that guards handcuffed the detainee to move him from his cell in segregation to the interview room where we conducted an interview with him. According to facility staff, all detainees in disciplinary segregation are handcuffed any time they leave their cell and there is no case-by-case justification. However, OIG pointed out that physically restraining all segregated detainees whenever they are outside their cells does not comply with detention standards.
Finally, OIG noted that Port Isabel did not employ enough medical staff to handle either the facility’s contracted guaranteed minimum detainee population or its maximum capacity.
The watchdog made nine recommendations to improve ICE’s oversight of detention facility management and operations at Port Isabel. ICE concurred with all but one of these, and has already taken action to meet them.