Watchdog Blasts Conditions at Immigration Lockups

This April 20, 2019, photo shows the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, Calif., a desert community northeast of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

(CN) – The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found spoiled food, unusable toilets and inadequate recreation time during surprise visits to four immigration detention facilities last year, according to a report released Thursday.

Between May and November 2018, the department’s Office of Inspector General visited four facilities that are contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to house detained immigrants.

According to the report, all four locations had issues with rotting food, which puts detainees at risk for foodborne illnesses.

The detention centers visited by the agency watchdog are located in California, Louisiana, New Jersey and Colorado.

“Our observations of all four facility kitchens indicated some level of noncompliance with ICE standards. We observed spoiled and moldy food in kitchen refrigerators, as well as food past its expiration date,” the report states.  

The inspector general says it conducted the latest round of checks under a mandate from Congress and in response to concerns raised by immigrant rights groups and complaints that were made to its hotline.

While the report highlights common issues such as mishandled or expired food discovered during last year’s inspections, it notes that most locations were found to have their own problems related to living conditions.

“At three facilities, we found that segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights. Two facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units. Bathrooms in two facilities’ detainee housing units were dilapidated and moldy,” the report states. “At one facility, detainees do not receive appropriate clothing and hygiene items to ensure they could properly care for themselves. Lastly, one facility allowed only non-contact visits, despite being able to accommodate in-person visitation.”

The inspector general issued individual reports to ICE after visiting the detention facility located in Adelanto, California, and the jail contracted by the agency in Essex County, New Jersey. The individual reports for those two facilities were created because the watchdog said it “observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards,” according to Thursday’s report.

The reported violations at the Adelanto and Essex County facilities include nooses found in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care and unreported security incidents, in addition to the food safety issues.

Phil Alagia, who oversees Essex County’s ICE contract, said at a hearing in March that “no building or facility is perfect.”

“Neither are we, but it has to be highlighted that what was detailed in the report was corrected, and in most cases corrected within 24 hours,” Alagia said.

Essex County receives more than $35 million from ICE to detain immigrants at the facility. County officials said in March that its budget for this year allocates $750,000 of that money to a legal defense fund for ICE detainees.

Thursday’s report says people held in the Essex County facility were given few hygiene supplies upon intake and none of these supplies were replenished. It also says detainees in disciplinary segregation were given only one hour per day to leave their cells.

Outdoor recreation time was a problem shared by the Adelanto facility, which did not offer any recreation time to some detainees who were segregated from the general population.

An Aurora, Colorado, facility visited by the inspector general’s office did not have any outdoor space, according to the report.

The fourth location, LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, had minor food-safety issues that were fixed during the inspector visit.

In a letter included in Thursday’s report, ICE said it is committed to addressing the issues and has already improved conditions. The agency estimates that corrective actions will be completed by Sept. 30.

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