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US Inspectors Alarmed Over Conditions at Immigrant Detention Centers

FILE - Suspected illegal immigrants are being processed at the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, Aug. 9, 2012.

Expired, moldy, and spoiled foods. Poor conditions in bathrooms. Long waits to receive medical care.

These are some of the observations cited at a federal report released on Thursday that said detained immigrants, at four large U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) centers, are being treated inhumanly.

The report issued by the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security shows that facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico require “immediate attention.”

“The ICE detention facilities were selected for inspections based on OIG hotline complaints, reports from non-governmental organizations, and media reporting,” the report says.

The inspectors have concerns about the lack of professionalism and inappropriate treatment of detainees, as well as misusing segregation. One detainee reported being locked down for multiple days for sharing coffee with another detainee.

Christina M. Fialho, executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), said the organization has raised these issued with local government officials more than two years ago.

“We filed a formal complaint on behalf of 31 transgender and cisgender women and these strip searches sometimes will turn into sexual assault. … We again raised this issue this earlier April,” she said.

Fialho said Santa Ana Jail in California has been operating outside the limits of the Constitution and state law for years.

The report corroborates Fialho’s comments.

One facility, the report says, did not “adequately” have enough staff to ensure thorough intake pat downs of detainees.

At another facility, it shows, personnel conducted strip searches of all incoming detainees, but did not document them, leaving no way to confirm whether the searches were justified based on reasonable suspicion.

FILE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are seen at at a detention center in Adelanto, California, April 13, 2017.
FILE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are seen at at a detention center in Adelanto, California, April 13, 2017.

Treatment ‘should be humane’

Acting Inspector General John Kelly in a statement said ICE has a challenging and highly visible role in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.

But added “Just as important is ICE’s role in detaining and housing the undocumented persons it apprehends. Treatment of detainees in ICE facilities should be humane, adhere to all regulations and be above reproach.”

Inspectors’ findings also show problems with grievance procedure.

Though not specified, at multiple facilities, detained individuals reported that “staff obstructed or delayed their grievances or intimidated them, through fear of retaliation, into not complaining.”

“Detainees should have access to telephones and be allowed to make free calls to the DHS OIG. Furthermore, inspectors observed non-working phones in one facility, and in another access the OIG Hotline number was restricted,” according with the report.

In an email to VOA, ICE official said the agency ensures facilities comply with ICE detention standards through an aggressive inspection program.

Danielle Bennett, ICE spokeswoman, said ICE is confident in conditions and high standards of care at its detention facilities. She said the agency work "regularly with contracted consultants and a variety of external stakeholder to review and improve conditions.
"ICE concurs with the IG’s recommendation to further enhance compliance monitoring as part of our already robust inspections program," Bennett said.
In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's office released a report on a variety of unannounced visits to centers for immigrant children.

The Washington Post reported inspectors “found inadequate food supplies, temperature-control problems and a high employee-to-detainee ratio at some of the shelters for the unaccompanied children.”

Fialho, who called the Thursday’s report disturbing, said CIVIC is urging city officials to shut down the Santa Ana City Jail.

“We've been working to put pressure on the city to actually completely shut down the facility and repurpose for something that the city really needs,” she told VOA.

Fialho said CIVIC will continue to monitor immigration detention center.

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    Aline Barros

    Aline Barros is an immigration reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining VOA in 2016, Aline worked for the Gazette Newspapers and Channel 21 Montgomery Community Media, both in Montgomery County, Md. She has been published by the Washington Post, G1 Portal Brazilian News, and Fox News Latino. Aline holds a broadcast journalism degree from University of Maryland. Follow her @AlineBarros2.