WASHINGTON | The privately-owned immigration detention center in Aurora is among four facilities the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog says inmates experience poor conditions such as rotting food, moldy and dilapidated bathrooms.
The Office of Inspector General made unannounced visits to four facilities in California, Louisiana, Colorado and New Jersey between May and November of last year, according to a report published Thursday. The facilities together house about 5,000 detainees.
In an Adelanto, California detention facility, inspectors found nooses in detainee cells, the segregation of certain detainees in an overly restrictive way and inadequate medical care, the report said.
“The Inspector General’s report is deeply disturbing. It highlights exactly why we need to have Congressional oversight of these facilities and why bills like the POD Act must be passed,” said Aurora Congressman Jason Crow, who recently proposed legislation that would allow for congressional oversight of the detention centers. “We can no longer afford to allow ICE to operate in the shadows. What has happened at the detention facility in Aurora is part of a far larger systemic problem. These conditions are unsanitary, they put public health at risk, and show a fundamental disregard for human life.”
Since being elected Crow has voiced concerns about conditions in the Aurora center, operated by GEO Group Inc.
“When we tried to visit the ICE detention center in Aurora unannounced, it was because we were afraid that ICE would put on the window dressing for Congress and, as we see today, it turns out those fears were not unfounded. It’s time we held ICE accountable.”
The report says issues at the Aurora center “were minor and easily fixed during our visits.”
Inspectors say they found “open packaged food (that) was not properly relabeled and dated for future consumption,” lack of outdoor recreational space, male and female detainees sharing recreational space, detainees that were not allowed in-person visits and “serious issues with the administrative and disciplinary segregation of detainees.”
Inspectors said they visited the Aurora site Nov. 6-8, 2018.
A spokesperson for GEO said they “take seriously any shortcomings in our delivery of consistent, high-quality care, taking immediate action as needed. We always strive to provide culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments that meet the needs of the individuals in the care of federal immigration authorities.”
“As a service provider for the federal government, GEO is committed to abiding by the Performance-Based National Detention Standards set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” the statement said. “The findings identified in this report pertaining to GEO-operated facilities were swiftly corrected last year.”
It comes as the Trump administration is managing a worsening problem at the U.S.-Mexico border, with a dramatic increase in the number of Central American migrants. While most are families who cannot be easily returned to their home countries, the number of single adults is also on the rise. Immigration officials are detaining an increasing number of single adults — about 52,000 now — but are funded for only 45,000. The administration has asked for $4.5 billion more for additional bed space.
Last month, Border Patrol agents made 132,887 apprehensions, topping 100,000 for the first time since April 2007 and setting a record with 84,542 adults and children apprehended. An additional 11,507 were children traveling alone, and 36,838 were single adults.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they are working to ensure all facilities comply with standards. They say they have already trained food service staff on food safety and they extensively cleaned and renovated housing units. They included photos of cleaned showers and bathrooms in their response.
“The safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s care are paramount,” the agency’s chief financial officer, Stephen Roncone, wrote to the inspector general’s office. “ICE has made substantial progress to address the findings and recommendation in the OIG’s draft report.”
Holding single adults is an administration priority; officials say detention is one of the only consequences that can be applied to those crossing illegally. But two facilities took detainees out of the general population to special units as punishment before they should have, three wrongly put detainees in restraints and one facility strip-searched detainees who were to be segregated, the watchdog found.
In a facility in Essex, New Jersey, inspectors found detainees lacked toiletries and were given uniforms that didn’t fit.
At a facility in Aurora, detainees were not allowed visits from friends or families, even though there was room for them to do so. Managers said they were concerned about drugs or weapons being smuggled, but they acknowledged that visits should be considered.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the report confirmed what she had suspected about treatment there.
“We need to take a hard look at ICE’s use of these private prisons and, at the very least, make clear to the agency that outsourcing its responsibility to physically hold these detainees does not absolve it of its obligation to properly care for them,” she wrote.
There have been reports of poor medical care and dangerous conditions at ICE facilities for years.