Homeland Security: Our Immigrant Jails Are Inhumane but We Will Do Almost Nothing to Fix Them

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The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday confirmed what activists and government watchdogs have long been insisting to anyone who would pay attention—that the way the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency often treats undocumented immigrants in its jails is actually pretty awful. Unfortunately, knowing is only half the battle. When it comes to actually doing something, DHS is almost nowhere to be seen.


In a DHS Office of the Inspector General report published on December 11 and released to the public today, the OIG wrote that after having randomly inspected five ICE detention facilities, “We identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.”

From the report:

Upon entering some facilities, detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history. Further, in violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances. Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation. Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.

As the OIG explained, these admissions came “in response to concerns raised by immigrant rights groups and complaints to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline about conditions for detainees held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.”

Among the problems named in the OIG report were instances of broken and filthy facilities at some jails, unwarranted strip searches of detainees, inaction in response to detainee questions and complaints, and in one instance, “a guard [yelling] at detainees for several minutes, while threatening to lock down detainees at his discretion” in what was deemed a “hostile and prolonged rant.”

Despite all this, the OIG’s prescribed recommendation feels particularly weak:

We recommend that the Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ensure that Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices that oversee the detention facilities covered in this report develop a process for ICE field offices to conduct specific reviews of these areas of operations: detainee classification, use of language services, use of segregation and disciplinary actions, compliance with grievance procedures, and detainee care including facility conditions. The process should include deficiency and corrective action reporting to Enforcement and Removal Operations.


As the OIG notes, ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan—who has unapologetically thrown himself behind President Donald Trump’s ongoing war against undocumented communities—seems entirely on board with the conspicuously mediocre DHS recommendation. ICE leadership, the report claims, “will advise compliance personnel in the ICE facilities identified by OIG to fully integrate special assessments [...] into their existing auditing and compliance efforts.”

In other words, ICE agrees to tell its agents to do better next time, guys.

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.