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Border securityDHS IG finds problems in detention centers for undocumented immigrants

Published 4 August 2014

A DHS IG report finds problems in several detention centers for Central American children and families who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, including inadequate food supplies, temperature-control problems, and a high employee-to-detainee ratio.

In a report released last Wednesday regarding oversight of the detention centers for Central American children and families who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, DHS Inspector General John Roth found that several facilities had inadequate food supplies, temperature-control problems, and a high employee-to-detainee ratio. Roth also announced the launch of an investigation of alleged “criminal behavior; violation of civil rights and liberties; and violations of laws, regulations and policies in the treatment and processing of (the children).”

The report is a result of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complaint filed on behalf of 116 children. Roth’s office is examining sixteen of the cases, while the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) internal affairs division and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility are reviewing the rest.

The Washington Post reports that as part of Roth’s initial investigation, DHS inspectors made unannounced visits to sixty-three detention centers, where they found no evidence of inappropriate conduct by DHS employees, or complaints during random interviews with children at the centers. The inspectors, however, did observe some organizational problems including:

  • Contractors were not providing an adequate amount of food at one location. DHS employees often purchased food to supplement the contractor supplies, at times at their own expense. DHS inspectors brought the matter to the attention of CBP officials, who took steps to correct the situation during the site visit, the report notes
  • Temperatures at some of the shelters are inconsistent, and DHS employees often cannot adjust the thermostats.
  • Employee-to-detainee ratios are inconsistent. One facility had more than twenty-five children for each worker, while others had zero to three kids for each staff member.
  • Not all shelters post copies of their policies in English and Spanish.
  • Some facilities are not systematically keeping an inventory of the children’s property.
  • Some minors are held for up to three days due to lack of a permanent shelter.
  • The ICE system for documenting compliance with department guidelines for unaccompanied minors has experienced frequent outages, resulting in inconsistent reporting. The system is “not a reliable tool for CBP to provide increased accountability of (the children’s) safety and well-being,” Roth said.
  • DHS employees reported exposure to diseases and contracting scabies, lice, and chickenpox. The children of two CBP officers were diagnosed with chickenpox within days of the officers’ contact with a migrant child who had the virus.

Roth has recommended that detention centers post their policies in English and Spanish, develop a “know your rights and responsibilities” video for the children and their families, and find the resources needed to ensure the proper functioning of DHS’ system for documenting compliance with department guidelines.

CBP has since reiterated its commitment to “protect unaccompanied children with special procedures and safeguards,” adding that “mistreatment or misconduct is not tolerated.”