Opponents of immigrant detention centers are applauding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for initiating unannounced inspections at its facilities.
Surprise Detention Inspections
The DHS' Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which conducts and supervises independent audits, investigations and inspections of Homeland Security's programs, announced it will begin making unaccounted inspections at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The first inspection occurred on March 15.
"The OIG is initiating this inspection program in response to concerns raised by immigrant rights groups and complaints to the DHS OIG Hotline regarding conditions for aliens in CBP and ICE custody," a statement read. "The unannounced spot inspections are designed to monitor DHS compliance with official government health, safety, and detention standards, and to examine conditions for minors at those facilities where minors are present."
According to the OIG, the inspections are ongoing, and results will be delivered to Homeland Security leadership, Congress and the public. A date for the results was not disclosed.
A Step in the Right Direction?
Detention Watch Network (DWN), a national coalition of groups and individuals working to challenge the U.S. immigrant detention practice and deportation system, commended the news of unannounced inspections, but much more can be done.
DWN and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) have previously co-authored reports about the failed and improper practices taking place at ICE's detention centers. In DWN and NIJC's October 2015 report "Lives in Peril: How Ineffective Inspections Make ICE Complicit in Immigration Detention," the groups recommended DHS and ICE increase transparency and oversight of the inspections process, including submission of quarterly reports to Congress and the public. DWN and NIJC also recommended DHS and ICE implement consequences for any failed inspection.
"In no uncertain terms, ICE has proven time and again they are not capable of caring for people in their custody. While this is a step in the right direction, we urge DHS OIG to adopt our recommendation to interview detained immigrants, as well as other stakeholders, during inspections to capture the range of concerns that may not be reported through formal institutional channels," said DWN Policy Director Mary Small.
"It is essential that DHS OIG, responsible for the oversight of this program, have the power to enact meaningful consequences when violations of the standards or other abuses are found, including terminating contracts with facilities with egregious or repeat violations," Small added.
While NIJC welcomed the DHS OIG announcement, Mary Meg McCarthy, the executive director of the NIJC, said the announcement was long overdue. She added lack of transparency and DHS' collaboration with for-profit groups have put detainees' lives at risk.
"The system is in desperate need of a more robust inspections process that truly holds DHS and its detention contractors accountable. Congress must provide the OIG with the necessary funding in fiscal year 2017 to conduct these inspections and appropriators should ensure that consecutive failures of OIG inspections results in termination of CBP and ICE detention center contracts," said McCarthy. "We urge the OIG to make public their findings in a timely manner to improve transparency and accountability in our nation's immigration detention system."