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Homeland Security finds 4 detention centers violate standards

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General's Office has just issued a report about immigrant detention centers. It found "significant issues" in four centers, including insufficient hygiene and medical care, potentially unsafe food, and inhumane treatment.

The four centers that failed to meet federal standards are located in New Mexico, California, Georgia and New Jersey. Not all of the problems occurred at every facility but, according to NPR, the report found:

  • Potentially unsafe and unhealthy conditions
  • Expired, moldy and spoiled foods in kitchens
  • Universal strip searches in violation of standards
  • Incorrect housing assignments based on detainees' criminal history
  • Possible misuse of segregation (solitary confinement)
  • Long waits for medical care
  • Poor conditions in bathrooms
  • Insufficient hygiene supplies
  • Facility staff actively deterring some detainees from filing grievances
  • Failure to fully document the resolution of grievances
  • Available translation services were not always used
  • Disrespectful and/or unprofessional treatment of detainees

Additionally, the report recommended that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement strengthen its oversight of facility management and operations at the detention centers.

ICE issued an official response agreeing with the findings and promising to improve conditions and improve its oversight.

This report follows another DHS Inspector General's Office report from three years ago. That report involved unannounced inspections to detention centers where unaccompanied minors are held. It found inadequate food, problems with climate control and other serious issues.

Is ICE even equipped to detain this number of immigrants?

Immigrant rights advocates, human rights groups and others have questioned whether ICE has the resources and trained personnel necessary to detain the record number of immigrants being held in the U.S.

According to a USA TODAY article in October, ICE has 31,000 to 41,000 people in detention on any given day. The agency is currently expanding its detention capacity with a goal of housing 48,000 detainees in 2018. Has the agency cut corners on safety, human dignity and legal standards in order to ramp up its detention capacity?

In 2015, the National Immigrant Justice Center issued a report documenting extensive abuses. The Women's Refugee Commission has also documented these issues for years, both from its own visits to ICE detention centers and also from 20 years of research.

"This week's OIG report spells out what WRC and our partners have documented for years, making clear the critical need for greater oversight and reform," said a spokesperson from the Commission. "Instead, the Trump administration is intent on lowering or eliminating standards for immigration detention -- putting detainees' lives at risk -- all while promising to ramp up detention on a grand scale."

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