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Reports Show Immigration Facility Inspectors Overlook Serious Rights Violations

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inspectors are entrusted with ensuring that facilities used to house vulnerable detainees are following strict guidelines for their operation.  However, an October 2015 report by two independent prisoner-rights groups, "Lives in Peril – How Ineffective Inspections Make ICE Complicit in Immigration Detention Abuse," shows that those inspectors apparently have failed to justify that trust, and have failed to document serious violations of those standards.

ICE detains as many of 400,000 undocumented individuals annually, requiring it to contract with state and county facilities, as well as private-prison operators, to house those detainees in a far-flung system that has been the subject of wide-spread criticism by a broad spectrum of human-rights activists.

The epidemic of serious violations occurring in ICE facilities nationwide on a daily basis has been the subject of numerous media exposes.  Both the Washington Post and the New York Times investigated ICE operations after 83 people died in that agency’s custody from 2003 to 2008. These and other reports resulted in federal legislation in 2009 that required regular inspections of ICE facilitates by independent inspectors to ensure compliance with agency standards. Facilities that failed two inspections in a row were supposed to be subject to severe sanctions, including loss of ICE contracts.

However, as with most regulations and laws affecting the most vulnerable detainees in our society, the reality is that this inspection process has failed to transparently carry out this process.  ICE only published these inspections when compelled to do so under time-consuming Freedom of Information (FOIA) Requests. Information obtained by those requests now continue to show that that culture of ICE secrecy continues, inspections have consistently failed to properly assess the conditions experiences of detained immigrants, and that "Inspections are Designed to Facilitate Passing Ratings for Facilities, Not identify or address Violations."

 According to Claudia Valenzuela, an author of the two report examining ICE detention practices, and the Chicago-based Director of National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC), "We looked at these facilities in the report where there is longtime documentation of abuses.  If these facilities are not failing, we don't know what kind of facility will ever fail an inspection."

In addition to improving transparency and improving the quality of inspections, Valenzuela and other observers recommended that facilities failing these improved inspections actually suffer consequences for those failures, including more intensive inspection and re-inspection of violations, and termination of government funding 60 days after the affected facility fails the follow-up inspection.

Many observers are concerned that these violations, despite the newest reports, will continue. According to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a noted critic of ICE practices, said that a "culture of secrecy" persists at ICE. "If we are going to have a system that detains so many people, we have to have the checks and balances in place to make sure that the detention is as humane as possible." An ICE spokesman says that it plans to examine the contents of the report, but declined to answer specific questions about its findings.


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