Immigration Detention: ICE Should Enhance Its Use of Facility Oversight Data and Management of Detainee Complaints

GAO-20-596 Published: Aug 19, 2020. Publicly Released: Aug 19, 2020.
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Fast Facts

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement in immigration detention facilities.

ICE and other DHS agencies oversee compliance with facility standards and receive complaints from detainees. We examined this oversight and what ICE does with oversight inspection data and information from complaints.

ICE doesn't comprehensively analyze inspection or complaint information to identify trends. It also doesn't have reasonable assurance that all complaints are addressed.

Our 6 recommendations to ICE are on conducting regular analysis, recording resolutions of complaints, and more.

Detainees at some ICE facilities can use a grievance box to lodge complaints.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other DHS entities use, in part, inspections to oversee detention facilities and address identified deficiencies. As shown below, in fiscal year 2019, most of ICE's 179 facilities that housed adults for over 72 hours underwent inspections by contractors or its Office of Detention Oversight, while smaller facilities conducted self-assessments. ICE also conducted onsite monitoring at facilities. Further, two DHS offices conducted inspections related to certain aspects of facilities. ICE collects the results of its various inspections, such as deficiencies they identify, but does not comprehensively analyze them to identify trends or record all inspection results in a format conducive to such analyses. By ensuring inspection results are recorded in a format conducive to analysis and regularly conducting comprehensive analyses of results, ICE would be better positioned to identify and address potential trends in deficiencies.

Detention Facility Oversight by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Entities at 179 Facilities, Fiscal Year 2019

Detention Facility Oversight by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Entities at 179 Facilities, Fiscal Year 2019

ICE and DHS entities have various mechanisms for receiving and addressing detention-related complaints from detainees and others. However, while some of these entities conduct some analyses of the complaint data they maintain, ICE does not regularly analyze detention-related complaint data across all of its relevant offices. By regularly conducting such analyses, ICE could identify and address potential trends in complaints. Additionally, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices—which oversee and manage detention facilities—address and record outcomes of detention-related complaints referred to them for resolution, or do so in a timely manner. For example, GAO's analysis of data from one referring office—the Administrative Inquiry Unit—indicated that for certain noncriminal complaints the unit refers, ERO field offices did not provide resolutions back to the unit for 99 percent of referrals. Without requiring that ERO field offices record any actions taken on, and the resolutions of, detention-related complaints, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that field offices are addressing them.

Why GAO Did This Study

ICE is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained foreign nationals in the United States. ICE has established standards for immigration detention related to complaint processes, medical care, and other areas.

The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review ICE's management and oversight of detention facilities and detention-related complaints. This report examines ICE and other DHS entities' mechanisms for (1) overseeing compliance with immigration detention facility standards and how ICE uses oversight information to address any identified deficiencies; and (2) receiving and addressing detainee complaints, and how ICE uses complaint information. GAO analyzed documentation and data on inspections and complaints at facilities that held detainees for over 72 hours during the last 3 fiscal years—2017 through 2019; visited 10 facilities selected based on inspection results and other factors; and interviewed officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations, including that ICE ensures oversight data are recorded in a format conducive to analysis, regularly conducts trend analyses of oversight data and detention-related complaint data, and requires that ERO field offices record the resolutions of detention-related complaints. DHS concurred.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should direct Custody Management to regularly conduct analyses of contracted facility inspections oversight data over time, within and across facilities and regions, and in a manner to enable trends in inspection deficiencies to be identified and addressed. (Recommendation 1)
Open – Partially Addressed
DHS concurred with this recommendation. ICE reported that, as of May 2022, Custody Management had developed a monthly trend analysis report, and as of June 2022, ICE management was reviewing the report. ICE plans to provide a sample draft monthly report to GAO when it is approved. To meet the intent of our recommendation, this report should include analysis of oversight data over time, within and across facilities and regions, and in order to identify trends and develop recommendations for resolving repeated deficiencies.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should direct the Office of Detention Oversight and Custody Management to take steps to ensure that data on deficiencies identified through Office of Detention Oversight's inspections are recorded in a format that is accessible to Custody Management for analysis purposes. (Recommendation 2)
Open – Partially Addressed
DHS concurred with this recommendation and noted in June 2021 that Custody Management had access to a spreadsheet maintained by the Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) with data on deficiencies identified through ODO inspections. According to DHS, access to this spreadsheet allowed Custody Management to perform analyses such as the detention standards in which deficiencies commonly occur as well identify facilities experiencing non-compliance to ICE requirements. However, the spreadsheet did not include information on the specific components of the standards found deficient, which prevented Custody Management from determining whether deficiencies occur in the same standards across time in the same facility, or across facilities. In June 2022, DHS stated that Custody Management and ODO were working together to identify the additional data fields Custody Management needs to conduct trend analysis. To meet the intent of the recommendation and allow Custody Management to conduct analyses within and across facilities and regions, ODO should provide access to data that specifies which components of standards are deficient.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should regularly conduct analyses of data on deficiencies identified through Office of Detention Oversight's inspections. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DHS concurred with this recommendation and in June 2021 reported that the Office of Detention Oversight has used the data, among other sources, to determine the standards with the greatest impact on the life, health, and safety of detainees, as was the case when we made the recommendation. However, DHS did not provide evidence that the data are being used to inform ICE Custody Management's management of detention facilities by identifying potential trends in facility condition deficiencies. As of June 2022, DHS stated that Custody Management was working with the Office of Detention Oversight to obtain data it would need to analyze trends in deficiencies. To meet the intent of the recommendation, once Custody Management obtains the data, it should regularly analyze it to identify trends in deficiencies over time and within and across facilities and regions.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should ensure that all Operational Review Self-Assessment results and corrective actions are recorded in a format that is conducive to tracking and analysis. (Recommendation 4)
Open – Partially Addressed
DHS concurred with this recommendation and in June 2021 reported that ICE's Custody Management is working to automate entry of Operational Review Self-Assessment data into the Facility Performance Management System. As of May 2022, DHS reported that Custody Management has developed coded documents necessary for the automation for field offices to complete during their self-assessments. The agency intends to provide supporting documentation to GAO after fiscal year 2021 self-assessments have been received from field offices and entered into the Facility Performance Management System. As of June 2022, DHS stated that almost all fiscal year 2021 self-assessments had been entered into the system. Further, DHS provided a statement of work to solicit proposals for development of a comprehensive data collection system that would include information from self-assessments. If these efforts result in data that are conducive to tracking and analysis, they will meet the intent of our recommendation.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should regularly conduct analyses of detention-related complaint data from relevant offices, including analyses of data over time, within and across facilities and regions, and at a level necessary to identify and address potentially reoccurring complaints. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DHS concurred with this recommendation and noted that ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is planning to establish a working group to review existing processes for analyzing detention-related complaints and identify areas of improvements to better track and analyze ICE detention complaint data from multiple programs and stakeholders. As of June 2021, ERO was in the process of developing the charter for the working group. As of June 2022, ERO reported that it was continuing to develop the charter for the working group. To meet the intent of this recommendation, ICE should provide, through the working group or otherwise, documentation of and plans for regular analyses of detention-related complaint data over time, within and across facilities and regions, and at a level necessary to identify and address reoccurring complaints.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should require that ERO field offices record any actions taken on, and the resolutions of, detention-related complaints referred to them from the Detention Reporting and Information Line and Administrative Inquiry Unit in a timely manner. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DHS concurred with this recommendation and awarded a contract in September 2021 to integrate multiple data systems, including DRIL's data system. Work planned under this contract will enable ERO field office officials to enter any actions taken on, or resolutions of, detention-related complaints from DRIL directly into DRIL's database. ICE officials said that the contractor will implement the data system in three phases, with the first tentatively scheduled for January or February 2023. The work planned under the contract will not affect the data system used to record resolutions of complaints referred to ERO field offices by the Administrative Inquiry Unit, according to ICE officials. In June 2022, ICE provided us guidance from 2014 containing a requirement for ERO field offices to record resolutions of complaints related to an executive action. However, the 2014 guidance does not require that ERO field offices record actions taken on, and resolutions of, all detention-related complaints. In addition, during our audit work--after the 2014 guidance was issued--DRIL officials said that ERO field offices are not required to record whether a detention-related complaint was resolved and that ERO field offices do so about half of the time. To fully meet the intent of our recommendation, ICE should require ERO field offices to record actions taken on, and resolutions of, detention-related complaints referred from DRIL and the Administrative Inquiry Unit, in either the new integrated database or elsewhere.

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