After years of outcry from advocates about the reported abuse of undocumented immigrants in detention centers, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) said on March 15 that it has initiated a program to conduct “unannounced inspections” of facilities run by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It is unknown whether these inspections will include for-profit detention centers and immigrant-only prisons contracted by the federal government.
Congress established OIG in 2002 to conduct and supervise independent audits, investigations, and inspections of the programs and operations of DHS. OIG is initiating its new program, according to the announcement, in response to concerns raised by immigrant rights groups and complaints made to the DHS OIG Hotline about conditions for undocumented immigrants in CBP and ICE custody.
Inspections, part of the ongoing program, are designed “to monitor DHS compliance with official government health, safety, and detention standards, and to examine conditions for minors at those facilities where minors are present,” OIG stated.
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The first unannounced spot inspections have been completed and results will soon be made public.
What’s unclear from OIG’s announcement is whether the inspections will extend to for-profit detention centers and immigrant-only prisons, both of which are run by private companies contracted by ICE and comprise a bulk of the country’s detention facilities.
A scathing Nation investigation reported on the preventable, in-custody deaths in immigrant-only contract prisons. The 11 immigrant-only contract prisons in the United States are run by three private companies that operate under a different and less stringent set of rules than other prisons in the federal criminal justice system.
The Texas-based immigrant rights organization, Grassroots Leadership, reported in 2015 that the two largest private prison companies—Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (GEO)—dominate the immigration detention industry, operating eight of the ten largest immigrant detention centers.
Combined, GEO and CCA operate 72 percent of the privately contracted ICE immigrant detention beds. Grassroots Leadership reports that nine of the ten largest ICE detention centers are private. GEO, CCA, and Management & Training Corporation, which runs two of the nation’s 11 immigrant-only contract prisons, all have long histories of allegations of human rights abuses. It is these facilities that may not be included in OIG’s new program of detention center spot inspections.
Rewire’s requests for clarification from DHS went unanswered.
As Rewire reported this month, immigration detention reforms have failed to stop in-custody deaths at ICE-operated detention facilities. The report analyzed government death reviews and facility inspection documents, finding that inadequate medical care continues to contribute to the deaths of immigrants in federal custody.
OIG’s new program offers little assurance to advocates, such as those from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). The network, according to a press release, is calling for “immediate consequences for the human rights violations that are ubiquitous within DHS prisons for migrants.”
“For years, DHS’ OIG and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRLC) investigations almost always result in absolutely nothing,” the network’s statement reads. “We fear that the newly announced inspections, like DHS’ many unenforced human rights standards, will be yet another way for DHS to make the appearance of taking human rights abuses seriously without any real impact for those trapped in the system.”
The organization cited several examples of substantiated abuse that have led to little more than “cosmetic fixes” by DHS, including the “rotten and insufficient food” and “woefully inadequate medical care that recently led to one detained person’s death” at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsen, Alabama. There’s also the case of Angel Rosa, a recently-deported grandfather, who advocates say suffered “severe medical abuse” that led to him being sterilized. Transgender people make up one out of every five survivors of “substantiated complaints of sexual abuse” in detention, often at the hands of guards.
Despite new guidelines on how to care for transgender people in detention, NDLON said “transphobic abuse” continues.
“DHS has been and continues to be a rogue agency that acts with impunity,” NDLON’s press release said.