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ICE Criticized by GAO for Inconsistent Compliance with Confinement Standards

Since 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),  deportations in the United States have skyrocketed to over 400,000 a year. Although that number has finally started to decline after reaching new records, ICE has struggled to uniformly administer its own regulations across the system, with current compliance barely above 50%.  This problem has come to Congressional attention with the recent influx of families with children as well as unaccompanied minors apprehended illegally entering the U.S., putting increasing pressure on overcrowded facilities never meant to accommodate those increasing number.

In its October, 2014 report, the Congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) sought to examine ICE Compliance with its internal standards, and concluded that "additional actions (are) needed to strengthen management and oversight of facility cost and standards." GAO succinctly summed up the management challenge facing this sprawling administrative behemoth: "GAO analysis of ICE facility data showed that ICE primarily used three sets of detention standards, with the most recent and rigorous standards applied to 25 facilities housing about 54 percent of ICE's daily average daily population (ADP) as of January 2014.  ICE plans to expand the use of these standards to 61 facilities housing 89 percent of total ADP by the end of fiscal year 2014."

However, 2014 has come and gone and ICE is no closer to complying with its own policy directives than it was when the report was written and released. Like most federal agencies who specialize in confining people, the quality of detention facilities, their suitability for the people they confine, and the standard of basic medical care provided varies widely. The GAO also noted that ICE needs to better track data in their facilities, which is difficult to do when not all facilities are even inspected on an annual basis.

Congress, the courts, and the public have taken notice.  In its 2014 Report of Enforcement and Removal Operations, ICE noted that detentions and removals had dropped for a variety of reasons.  The 9th Circuit case of Rodriguez v. Robbins required bond hearings for individuals in ICE custody over six months  Many local communities, dissatisfied with the administration of the Safe Communities Act, and mindful of the harsh conditions of confinement at many ICE facilities, had declined to honor ICE detainers and instead released undocumented individuals after they had complied with local law enforcement or court directives.

ICE also noted that it was now required to release individuals on bond or on their own recognizance: "(If) ICE cannot repatriate individuals to their countries of origin or nationality within the statutory time limits...ICE must, by law, release (them) from custody, pursuant to United states Supreme Court and other federal court decisions." As a result, according to the report, ICE released almost 127,000 individuals from custody.

Both reports show that DHS and ICE have much more work ahead of them to properly manage their facilities, and well as comply with court directives mandating prompter processing and more compassionate care for their detainees.


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