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ICE failed to penalize failing detention centers; sexual assault, misconduct unreported: Audit

February 1, 2019

Homeland Security doesn’t do enough to punish bad actors within its network of facilities it uses to detain immigrants awaiting deportation, a government audit said Friday.

Despite identifying more than 14,000 violations of detention standards at more than 100 facilities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposed financial penalties on just two of them, the Homeland Security inspector general said in a review that covered three years of records.

The violations included failing to notify ICE about sexual assaults or guard misconduct.

ICE also doesn’t even know how many times it’s issued a Discrepancy Report detailing violations at the 106 facilities, the audit said.

And when it does find problems, it usually brushes them aside.

“Instead of holding facilities accountable through financial penalties, ICE issued waivers to facilities with deficient conditions, seeking to exempt them from having to comply with certain detention standards,” the inspector general said.

Over a two-year period, 96 percent of waiver requests were granted, including for safety and security problems.

ICE in recent years has maintained about 40,000 to 45,000 detention beds on any given day. The vast majority are run by someone other than ICE and are used under contract. They include county jails, privately owned facilities and space already under contract by the U.S. Marshals Service, which ICE piggybacks on.

The audit comes at a time when ICE is already facing fierce criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill who say the detention system for illegal immigrants is cruel and out of control.

The latest proposal from House Democrats this week would cut the number of detention beds by 10,000 and would limit who can be held in them.

Instead, illegal immigrants awaiting deportation would be released under alternative arrangements such as ankle-monitoring devices, regular check-ins or counseling.

Even those new restrictions aren’t enough for some left-wing members of Congress and immigrant-rights activists, who wanted to see deeper cuts to the detention system.

The contract facilities covered by the new audit were paid more than $1 billion a year over the three-year period investigators studied, but just $3.9 million in fines were deducted for violations at two facilities.

One facility was penalized for “a pattern of repeat deficiencies” on health care and mental health, while the other was slapped by the Labor Department for underpaying employees.

ICE, in its official response, complained that the report ignored other penalties used against poorly performing detention facilities including canceling the contracts and removing all detainees.

“This is an effective tool to hold a contractor accountable,” wrote Stephen A. Roncone, chief financial officer at ICE.

ICE did accept all five of the inspector general’s recommendations for improvements, including making sure each contract includes a quality assurance plan and coming up with better guidance for when ICE should slap financial penalties on facilities with violations.

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