During unannounced inspections of five U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in the Laredo and San Antonio areas of Texas in February 2020, the Office of Inspector General found that three CBP Border Patrol stations and two CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) ports of entry appeared to be operating in compliance with the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) standards.
OIG verified accessibility to water, food, toilets, sinks, basic hygiene supplies, and bedding. The inspectors observed clean facilities and verified that temperatures and ventilation in the holding rooms were appropriate. Of the five facilities, only one could provide on-site showers to detainees, but during the inspection visits, no detainees were approaching the detention time threshold when a shower would be required – 48 hours for juveniles and 72 hours for adults.
TEDS standards also outline general requirements related to detainee access to medical care in emergencies. In late December 2019, CBP enhanced these requirements by adopting CBP Directive 2210-004, which requires “deployment of enhanced medical support efforts to mitigate risk to, and sustain enhanced medical efforts for persons in CBP custody along the Southwest Border.”
The directive outlines a three-phased approach for enhancing medical screening of persons in CBP custody. In the first phase (Phase 1), CBP personnel are expected to observe all persons in custody upon initial encounter and identify potential medical issues. Persons identified with medical issues of concern will then receive health interviews or medical assessments, or be referred to the local health system for evaluation.
In addition to the initial observation required in the first medical screening phase, the second phase (Phase 2) requires CBP personnel to complete an Alien Initial Health Interview Questionnaire (CBP Form 2500) for any individual in custody under the age of 18.
Subject to availability of resources and operational requirements, the third phase (Phase 3) adds the requirement that CBP personnel conduct a medical assessment of all children ages 12 and under in custody, any person who has a positive response to a specific set of questions on the CBP Form 2500, and any other person in custody with a known or reported medical concern.
Because Border Patrol leadership directed all Border Patrol stations to implement Phase 2 of enhanced medical screening ahead of the prescribed schedule outlined in CBP Directive 2210-004, the Border Patrol stations OIG visited were conducting alien intake health assessments using CBP Form 2500. Ports of entry had implemented Phase 1, but were not yet required to conduct Phase 2 assessments at the time of the inspection.
The five holding facilities were well below capacity during the time of OIG’s visits. The total maximum capacity for all five facilities was approximately 400, but only 44 detainees were in custody at the five facilities at the time of the inspections.
The OIG inspectors also considered the pandemic response measures taken by the facilities and found these to be satisfactory. For example, those with outdoor areas conducted health interviews before detainees entered the facilities. Inspectors observed a detainee who had been given, and was wearing, a mask.
Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers were available to both CBP and contract staff. During our inspections, we observed some CBP personnel and contract staff wearing gloves, while some did not.
Although the coronavirus was not yet prevalent in the United States at the time of the visits in February 2020, OIG observed relevant posters displayed in the facilities, and medical staff asked detainees about travel routes to evaluate potential exposure risk.