ICE Is Cramming Immigrants Into Filthy, Overcrowded Facilities

The border surge is upon us. Apparently. Since the 2016 election, actually, if we’re honest about it. Trump wasn’t a single-issue candidate but has sort of morphed into one since taking office. The swamp remains undrained. Hillary Clinton remains unjailed. But BUILD THE WALL has become the calling card of Donald Trump as he seeks to rid the nation of pesky brown people. Good times. To be fair, ICE and CBP have always sucked. But their moment in the spotlight has only increased the intensity of their sucking.

The problem with declaring the border a national security threat/war zone/flashpoint for a trade war/whatever is that you have to be ready to deal with the problem you’re causing. If you think America’s greatness is measured by the number of people we capture and detain, you have to have a plan in place to deal with this influx of eventual deportees.

We do not have a plan in place. ICE may be enjoying the extremely rare experience of being a presidential administration’s favorite agency, but it definitely had no idea what it was in for. For months, ICE scrambled around knocking heads and fudging numbers to back Trump’s claim that the United States was swimming with dangerous undocumented immigrants.

ICE performed raid after raid in major cities, hoping to score a batch of hardened criminals. CBP also stepped up enforcement, detaining more people than usual in hopes of sending a message to outsiders about America’s not-all-that-open borders.

The problem is you have to put all of these people somewhere. ICE is in charge of that and it doesn’t particularly relish any part of the job but locking people up. It farmed out some of this work to contractors. Whatever it doesn’t handle poorly itself is handled terribly by third parties. ICE rarely inspects its facilities and even more rarely makes sure the few problems it notices are addressed.

This has led directly to the problems found by ICE’s Inspector General. IG investigations of ICE detention centers have found a shitload of inhuman conditions that we, the people, are funding with our tax dollars. First, an inspection [PDF] of a facility in El Paso, Texas, discovered ICE and CBP are just shoving as many detainees into a room as inhumanly possible, resulting in standing-room-only detentions that can last for several days.

Here are a couple of photos taken by investigators. Each white block is covering a face… or faces, since there’s not a lot of room between detainees.

Part of the problem is a spike in apprehensions, apparently triggered by presidential rhetoric.

These agencies (ICE, CBP) view detainees as subhuman, much in the way prisons view prisoners.

Here are the numbers, according to the IG investigation:

According to PDT Border Patrol processing facility staff, the facility’s maximum capacity is 125 detainees. However, on May 7 and 8, 2019, Border Patrol’s custody logs indicated that there were approximately 750 and 900 detainees on site, respectively. TEDS standards provide that “under no circumstances should the maximum [cell] occupancy rate, as set by the fire marshal, be exceeded” (TEDS 4.7).

However, we observed dangerous overcrowding at the facility with single adults held in cells designed for one-fifth as many detainees (see Figures 1 through 3). Specifically, we observed:

– a cell with a maximum capacity of 12 held 76 detainees (Figure 1);

– a cell with a maximum capacity of 8 held 41 detainees (Figure 2); and

– a cell with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 detainees (Figure 3).

66% of detainees had been there longer than the 72 hours and 4% (33 detainees) had been there — in these conditions — for more than two weeks. The IG also observed hundreds of detainees standing in line to surrender their valuables to DHS/CBP personnel prior to detention. The IG also observed how government personnel processed these possessions, which apparently involved a.) taking the valuables, and b.) hurling them into a nearby dumpster.

The CPB excuse? Some possession were “wet,” which made them “biohazards.” Management on site had their own complaints: employees were getting sick frequently and morale was pretty much nonexistent. Unsurprisingly, sending personnel into overcrowded holding areas to check on detainees also increases the dangers they face, especially when detainees are understandably distressed and angry about their supposedly-temporary living conditions.

There is no help coming from upper management. Nor is ICE willing to assist in alleviating the problems it’s caused.

Although CBP headquarters management has been aware of the situation at PDT for months and detailed staff to assist with custody management, DHS has not identified a process to alleviate issues with overcrowding at PDT. Within DHS, providing long-term detention is the responsibility of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), not CBP. El Paso sector Border Patrol management said they are able to complete immigration processing for most detainees within a few days, but have not been able to transfer single adults into ICE custody quickly. Border Patrol managers at the stations we visited said they call ICE daily to request detention space for single adults. They said in some instances ICE officers tell them they cannot take the detainees. In other instances, ICE initially agrees to take some adult detainees, but then reverses the decision.

El Paso isn’t the only area of concern. Another Inspector General’s report [PDF] obtained by CNN contains even more depictions of subhuman conditions being foisted on detainees by the federal government. Overcrowding isn’t the problem here. Everything else is.

This report summarizes findings on our latest round of unannounced inspections at four detention facilities housing ICE detainees. Although the conditions varied among the facilities and not every problem was present at each, our observations, detainee and staff interviews, and document reviews revealed several common issues. Because we observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards at facilities in Adelanto, CA, and Essex County, NJ, including nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues, we issued individual reports to ICE after our visits to these two facilities. All four facilities had issues with expired food, which puts detainees at risk for food-borne illnesses.

If you can take it, there’s more:

At three facilities, we found that segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights. Two facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units. Bathrooms in two facilities’ detainee housing units were dilapidated and moldy. At one facility, detainees do not receive appropriate clothing and hygiene items to ensure they could properly care for themselves. Lastly, one facility allowed only non-contact visits, despite being able to accommodate in-person visitation. Our observations confirmed concerns identified in detainee grievances, which indicated unsafe and unhealthy conditions to varying degrees at all of the facilities we visited.

In two facilities, food handling processes were so substandard, the kitchen manager was fired during the IG’s visit. At one facility, personnel performed suspicionless strip searches with alarming regularity and without proper documentation. In multiple facilities, detainees were not given adequate recreation time or access to outdoor activities. Some assholes (including government employees!) probably consider this to be coddling people engaged in illegal behavior, but the IG points out an important nuance that often gets ignored during heated discussions of immigration enforcement.

Detainees are held in civil, not criminal, custody; yet, according to the National Institute for Jail Operations, the loss or reduction of recreation-related amenities (indoor recreation; no fresh air and direct sunlight) may result in increased idle time and a significantly lower quality of life.

Given the conditions indoors, no wonder so many detainees wanted to spend more time outside detention facilities.

[A]t the Adelanto and Essex facilities, we observed detainee bathrooms that were in poor condition, including mold and peeling paint on walls, floors, and showers, and unusable toilets… At the Essex facility, mold permeated all walls in the bathroom area, including ceilings, vents, mirrors, and shower stalls.

That’s a factor that cannot be overlooked. Most of the thousands of people detained at ICE facilities are civil detainees. And in many cases, they’re being treated worse than the criminals housed in our nation’s many prisons. The administration is very engaged in an anti-immigration flex, but it has zero interest in handling its border enforcement activities responsibly. This does not reflect well on this country, especially if these problems continue long after Trump leaves office.
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