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Immigration and Customs Enforcement failed to hold private contractors accountable for problems at detention facilities where migrants in the country illegally are held, according to a report from the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security.
The report detailed several of the most egregious cases, including contractors failing to notify ICE of sexual assaults and employee misconduct, using tear gas instead of approved pepper spray, and commingling detainees with serious criminal histories with those who might be at risk of sexual assault.
In all of those cases, the contractors did not face any monetary penalties.
The report focuses on 106 detention facilities run by private contractors that hold, on average, 25,000 detainees a day. ICE can fine those contractors when "deficiencies" are found. Such monetary penalties are a key tool for ensuring that safety standards are followed and detainees are treated fairly.
According to the report, ICE found 14,000 deficiencies between October 2015 and June 2018 but issued only two fines. The two cases that did lead to fines involved detention center workers being underpaid and poor health care and mental health standards.
ICE did not dispute the findings and said it would implement changes, according to the report.
"This isn't the first time DHS's inspector general has put out a report calling out ICE for serious deficiencies in its inspection or contracting process," said Madhuri Grewal, federal immigration policy counsel with the ACLU.
As the Trump administration expanded its crackdown on people living in the country illegally, ICE rapidly expanded the number of detention centers around the country. ICE now spends $3 billion for private contractor detention.
In recent years, DHS's inspector general found ICE doesn't follow procurement guidelines for detention contractors and doesn't fully examine actual conditions. ICE agreed with the findings in each report and said it would implement changes.
According to the most recent inspector general's report, ICE agents assigned to inspect detention centers may have "unachievable workloads" that prevent them from being able to provide "appropriate oversight."
House Democrats currently negotiating the Homeland Security Department's 2019 funding put forward budget proposals to add $7 million to ramp up the number of detention center inspections.
Immigration rights advocates are also asking Congress to cut DHS's detention funding. Grewal said the ACLU is advocating for "a specific prohibition that prevents ICE from looting other agencies — like FEMA — to further expand detention."
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