ICE’s sprawling detention network sometimes appears to operate on nothing more than personal whims, but there are actually written standards that the agency requires its facilities to meet. ICE and its private prison operators routinely fail to do so. During the eight-year period spanning October 1, 2010 to August 1, 2018, internal and external auditors hired by ICE raised almost 7,000 instances of policy violations.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained a list of every Uniform Corrective Action Plan created anytime a facility operated by or on behalf of ICE was found to fall short of agency standards. As the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General describes, “Detention facilities develop Uniform Corrective Action Plans (UCAP) when either [private auditor] Nakamoto or [ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight] inspections find instances of noncompliance.” The government’s response to my request returned 6,932 UCAPs. Of these, 1,356 were from inspections conducted from August 1, 2017 to August 1, 2018.
Many shortcomings are minor. For example, officials in one Iowa jail failed to sign every page of the facility’s contract with ICE.
Others raise the stakes for poor outcomes in immigration court. On numerous occasions auditors dinged facilities for failing to provide an adequate law library. In late 2012, for example, the Henderson Detention Center in North Carolina library provided materials in English only. In August 2018, the LexisNexis digital database of legal materials in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center didn’t work when inspectors checked it on two different computers. In Willacy County, Texas, inspectors found it sometimes takes up to seven days for detainees to receive an orientation regarding the facility’s services. The average length of stay in Willacy is three days, inspectors reported.
Still other violations go right to the heart of the difficult conditions in which many migrants are confined. In 2018, the Suffolk County House of Corrections, in Boston, failed to allow non-legal visits for people locked up in its segregation units. Not far away, the Bristol County Detention Center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, refused to allow people detained in segregated units time outside their cells “over and above the required recreation periods.” Both practices violate ICE standards. Meanwhile, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, staff at the Grand Forks County Correctional Facility were found to routinely conduct strip searches despite an ICE directive that strip searches must be based on cause and not as a matter of routine. This was only one of seventy violations auditors discovered during their May 2018 visit.
Despite the frequent discovery and documentation of violations, ICE is poorly equipped to ensure that problems are corrected. In a 2018 report that I wrote about on crimmigration.com, the DHS Inspector General concluded that inspections are “too infrequent” or lack “follow up.” Some problems “remain unaddressed for years,” the department’s Inspector General concluded.
Clearly that’s troubling. If ICE is going to create standards for its detention network, it needs to ensure that those standards mean something. Currently, the UCAPs serve more like a damning compilation of an immigration prison system incapable of reforming itself.