Watchdog report finds ICE's detainee complaint process inadequate

Watchdog report finds ICE’s detainee complaint process inadequate

Some ERO field offices had no recorded resolution for 99 percent of detainee complaints

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn’t really keep track of whether thousands of detainee complaints each year are addressed, doesn’t use the data it has to improve facility conditions, and still doesn’t actually require action to be taken on issues identified by inspectors, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released this week.

The findings are the result of a GAO audit that had been ongoing since April 2019 and involved visits and interviews at ten ICE facilities. The legislative research agency also reviewed ICE processes and records and determined that they are kept too differently between offices within ICE to be properly used for more efficient action and improvements. The review primarily focused on facilities that hold individuals for longer than 72 hours of which there were 179 when GAO began its investigation in 2019.

The facilities GAO representatives visited: Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility; Bergen County Jail; Hudson County Correctional Facility; Krome North Service Processing Center; Glades County Detention Center; Broward Transitional Center; Eloy Detention Center; La Palma Correctional Center; Florence Service Processing Center

The majority of ICE’s roughly 50,000 daily detainees are held at facilities owned or operated by privately-owned prisons, contracted either through state agencies, local entities, U.S. Marshals, or on their own. A 2019 report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General found ICE rarely used contractual opportunities to penalize private detention operators for failing to meet the required detention standards. In 2018, the IG called attention to ICE’s inability to effectively use inspections to improve their operations.

The GAO’s most recent report provides six recommendations, focused on standardizing complaint data across the offices that collect it and using that data to actually identify issues and trends within facilities, regions, or under particular ICE officials.

The current system, GAO wrote, prevents effective analysis of complaint and detention standard violations that should even be obvious, like recurring failures in medical care and detainee safety.

With the DHS OIG only investigating between one and two hundred complaints a year, most grievances are ultimately tasked to Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices, some of which don’t have recorded resolutions for hundreds of complaints they’d been referred. GAO recommended that ICE make this a requirement.

Though ICE concurred with the GAO findings, internal recommendations from federal oversight agencies like the OIG and GAO will only really be fulfilled on the DHS’s timeline.

Right now, the controversy surrounding ICE — its mission, partnerships with private prisons and police, and its very existence — has become a mainstream talking point, with major Democratic candidates joining calls for its abolition. And last week, GAO released a report finding that DHS Chad Wolf, Kenneth Cuccinelli (who inspired our Assignment on unmarked vehicles), and other officials were invalidly occupying their current roles within the agency.

As a result of GAO’s report, ICE said it would implement new database and case management systems that may be ready in the next year or two.

You can read the whole report below:

*Header photo by Patrick Feller and licensed under CC BY 2.0