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Immigration Detention: Actions Needed to Collect Consistent Information for Segregated Housing Oversight

GAO-23-105366 Published: Oct 26, 2022. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 2022.
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Fast Facts

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can, under certain circumstances, place detained noncitizens in segregated housing—one to two person cells separate from the general population. There were 14,581 such placements from FYs 2017-2021.

ICE oversees segregated housing, and also monitors placements involving vulnerable persons—e.g., those with medical or mental health conditions. But it relies on reports and data that don't always have enough detail about the circumstances leading to a placement, or indicate that a placed person is vulnerable.

As a result, ICE can't adequately oversee segregated housing. Our recommendations address this.

Example of a Segregated Housing Cell in an ICE Facility

bunks beds and a toilet in a housing cell

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Highlights

What GAO Found

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities can, under certain circumstances, place detained noncitizens in segregated housing—one or two-person cells separate from the general population—for up to 24 hours per day. ICE has policies and processes for managing and overseeing detention facilities' use of segregated housing, but information used for oversight is inconsistent. ICE requires field offices to provide headquarters documentation with explanations of segregated housing placements. However, this supporting documentation does not always contain sufficient detail explaining the circumstances leading to placements. Further, although ICE requires field offices to report any placement involving an individual identified as vulnerable—such as those with medical or mental health conditions—segregated housing data did not always identify vulnerable detained noncitizens. Issuing specific guidance on the documentation needed to support segregated housing placements and identifying all vulnerable population placements would help ICE oversee these placements. In particular, these actions could help ICE ensure the appropriateness of placements and proper care for vulnerable noncitizens.

GAO's analysis of segregated housing placement data indicates that ICE made 14,581 segregated housing placements from fiscal years 2017 through 2021. About 40 percent of these placements were for disciplinary reasons, such as drug possession, and about 60 percent were for administrative reasons, such as protective custody or medical reasons. Available data also indicated that ICE placed individuals belonging to vulnerable populations in segregated housing from fiscal years 2017 through 2021 for various reasons and durations.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Facility Segregated Housing Unit and Cell

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Facility Segregated Housing Unit and Cell

Overall, segregated housing-related complaints to ICE increased from 2017 through 2019, before decreasing from 2020 to 2021. However, ICE does not conduct ongoing analyses of segregated housing-related complaints from various ICE offices or require its field offices to record resolutions of those complaints. In 2020, GAO recommended that ICE conduct comprehensive and ongoing analyses of detention-related complaints and require its field offices to record any actions taken on, and resolutions of these complaints. ICE concurred and is taking some steps to address them. Implementing the recommendations would include such analyses of segregated housing-related complaints.

Why GAO Did This Study

ICE is the lead agency responsible for providing safe, secure, and humane confinement for detained noncitizens in the U.S. Individuals in segregated housing have limited access to facility amenities, and detention facilities are required to provide ongoing medical and mental health care and reviews to those in segregated housing.

GAO was asked to review ICE's management and oversight of segregated housing. This report addresses (1) ICE's processes for and oversight of segregated housing and ICE's collection of information on segregated housing placements; (2) the number and characteristics of segregated housing placements from fiscal years 2017 through 2021; and (3) the extent to which ICE receives and addresses segregated housing complaints.

GAO reviewed policies and documents on segregated housing; interviewed officials at 12 ICE detention facilities and four ICE field offices; and analyzed segregated housing data and segregated housing complaint data from fiscal years 2017 through 2021.

Recommendations

GAO recommends that ICE (1) provide specific guidance to ERO field offices for segregated housing documentation, and (2) identify all known detained noncitizens in vulnerable populations as defined in segregated housing policy. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should provide specific guidance to ERO field offices on the level of detail needed in the documentation supporting segregated housing placements. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In October 2022, we reported on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) placement of detained noncitizens in segregated housing. We found that ICE documentation did not include consistent detail explaining incidents and circumstances leading to segregated housing placements. Specifically, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) had not provided field offices with detailed guidance outlining what to include in this documentation. As a result, we recommended that the Director of ICE provide specific guidance to ERO field offices on the level of detail needed to document segregated housing placements. ICE concurred with this recommendation. In April 2023, ICE reported that ERO Custody Management completed initial draft updates to ICE policy providing guidance on the information and level of detail needed to justify segregation placement. The policy updates and accompanying guidance for ERO field offices are undergoing internal review. We will continue to monitor ICE's efforts to address this recommendation.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should identify in the agency's data system for segregated housing placements all known detained noncitizens ICE considers vulnerable in its segregated housing policy. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In October 2022, we reported on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) placement of detained noncitizens in segregated housing. We found that ICE's segregated housing data within its Segregation Review Management System (SRMS) did not identify all detained noncitizens from vulnerable populations, such as individuals with mental health conditions or who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Intersex. Specifically, ICE maintains information in disparate "data trackers" on all known members of various vulnerable populations in ICE custody, but information from these trackers is not always entered into the detention data housed in SRMS. As a result, we recommended that ICE identify in its data system for segregated housing placements all known detained noncitizens ICE considers vulnerable. ICE concurred with this recommendation. In April 2023, ICE reported that the agency is migrating disparate data systems onto a shared platform to improve its overall data quality and reporting capabilities. Migration of SRMS data to the shared platform is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2023, and the new shared data platform is expected to be fully operational in the summer of 2024. We will continue to monitor ICE's efforts to address this recommendation.

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Topics

CitizenshipCustoms enforcementDetention facilitiesHealth careHealth care standardsHomeland securityHousingHousing policyImmigrantsImmigrationImmigration detentionMental healthPhysical disabilities