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New Report Says ICE Inspection Problems Perpetuate Prisoner Abuse

The National Immigrant Justice Center and the Detention Watch Network recently released a joint report sharply critical of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency and its oversight methods, terming them "fundamentally unchanged and unreformed.  The ICE detention system, the report said, "remains non-transparent and ineffective at identifying pervasive and troubling conditions in detention."

After September 11, 2001, the numbers of undocumented individuals confined in the immigration detention system exploded, outstripping the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, which succeeded the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, to properly manage. Complaints about overcrowding and human rights abuse increased exponentially as more than of 400,000 individuals cycled through the system annually. On any given day, more than 30,000 men, women, and children are in ICE detention facilities.

In response to a flood of complaints about detention practices, 2009 the federal government in 2009 created the Office of Detention Oversight to allegedly perform independent investigations.  Forty inspectors were supposed to make on-site inspections of ICE facilities to ensure compliance with supposedly improved conditions of confinement that would protect detainees from abuse.  However, the reality has turned out to be much different. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as unnecessary death, continue.

The inspection process has failed to carry out the federal government's stated purpose of protecting immigrant detainees. Unfortunately, the forty "independent" inspectors are anything but, since ICE is the agency that reviews their reports and "monitors" its own compliance. According to Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, "The (inspection) audits that are done at these facilities are done by ICE. The conditions are set by ICE.  Obviously, that's a conflict of interest."  Smith's district, which includes Tacoma, Washington, contains a large immigration detention center run by the private prison company GEO Group.

The report noted that "ICE's Culture of Secrecy Persist." ICE, like many federal agencies, does its best to frustrate any attempt by the public to get information on ICE operations and ICE inspection process.

 The report also stated that, "ICE Inspections Fail to Adequately Assess the Conditions Detained Immigrants Experience." Inspections of ICE facilities are announced in advance, giving the facility time to prepare. Additionally, "Inspectors fail to apply 2008 and 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards language that was intended to improve oversight of facilities."

The study also stated that "Inspections are Designed to Facilitate Passing Ratings for Facilities, Not identify or Address Violations." Critics said that the inspections are basically "check-the-box" exercises which do not go into detail on possible violations.  "Even where human rights violations and unexplained deaths have been publicly documented, facilities rare fail...inspections," the report concluded.

One of the more egregious examples of the failure of ICE inspections occurred in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where transgender prisoner Tanya Guzman-Martinez alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by a facility guard.  Corrections Corporation of America, which operates that facility, later fired the guard, Justin Manford, who was later convicted of unlawful sexual contact.  However, even this incident was not included in reports submitted regarding that facility.


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