From President Trump’s travel ban prohibiting the issuance of visas to citizens of largely-Muslim countries to his attempts to use the legal status of DACA recipients as a gambling piece in his crusade for a border wall, there has been no shortage of topics with which to discuss. Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border control have taken center stage once again.
According to a report released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Jan. 29, ICE does not hold detention facility contractors accountable for failing to meet performance standards. Currently, ICE has contracts with 106 detention facilities throughout the U.S. to detain removable aliens. DHS ordered the inspection to determine whether ICE holds these immigration detention facilities to “applicable detention standards,” as well as whether they impose consequences when the facilities do not meet the standards.
In the report were descriptions of several cases of misconduct, including contractors, “failing to notify ICE about sexual assaults,” commingling high-custody detainees who have histories of serious criminal offenses with low-custody detainees who may be at risk of victimization or assault and using tear gas—a substance that is 10 times more toxic than the detention standard pepper spray. ICE is able to fine contractors when deficiencies in a detention center are found, in an attempt to ensure that the safety standards are followed. However, in each of these cases, contractors were not given any monetary penalties.
“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 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Between October 2015 and June 2018, ICE reported 14,000 deficiencies. Of these cases, only two fines were issued: one involving detention center workers being underpaid, and the other concerning poor health care standards.
The report states that ICE agents who inspect the detention facilities may have “unachievable workloads,” and that this hinders their ability to provide, “appropriate oversight.” DHS has made five recommendations to “improve contract oversight and compliance of ICE detention facility contractors.” ICE has not disputed the findings of the report, and stated that they would concur with all five recommendations in an effort to hold detention facility contractors accountable for failing to meet performance standards.
The report comes at a time when the Trump administration is working hard, amid growing tension, to further its crackdown on people living illegally in the country. ICE has recently expanded its number of detention centers, now spending an annual $3 billion for private contractor detention and holding an average of 25,000 detainees a day. Despite nationwide calls to abolish ICE completely, spearheaded by immigration rights activists such as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, House Democrats have put forward budget proposals that include an added $7 million to DHS funding in order to increase the number of detention center inspections.
ICE’s reputation took a blow this past summer, when the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of arresting people who illegally enter the U.S. went into place, and thousands of migrant children were subsequently separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. News networks were flooded with images of children being kept in chain-link pens in abandoned warehouses, and protestors took to the streets to protest the poor living conditions of detainees. The Occupy ICE movement, fueled in part by the Democratic Socialists of America, organized encampments and occupations across the country.
It is now known that some detainees themselves have been protesting their treatment in detention centers. On Jan. 31, ICE confirmed that at least six immigrant detainees on a hunger strike have been force-fed by immigration authorities, and that nine other asylum-seekers are starving themselves. The majority of the protestors are non-English speaking Indian immigrants who entered the U.S. over six months ago and turned themselves in.
The hunger strike began in the new year to protest the “inhumane conditions” of their confinement, including verbal threats of deportation and an absence of information about their cases due to not being provided anyone who can speak Punjabi. Just prior to a federal judge ordering the forced feeding, several of the protestors were held in solitary confinement for two weeks in an attempt to “intimidate them” into ending the protest.
According to an ICE statement, a federal judge in the Western District of Texas signed all six of the “non-consensual hydration/feeding” order between Jan. 15 and Jan. 17. The agency said it “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference,” and “does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers.” ICE policy states that interventions are begun when a detainee doesn’t eat for nine consecutive meals or 72 hours, and that these interventions may include isolation for close supervision, observation, and monitoring. This is the first ever reported case of ICE officials engaging in forced feeding.
Medical experts usually force-feed someone using a nasogastric tube, which is inserted into the nose. The patient is fully restrained, as any movements can cause a nosebleed, tissue damage, or a broken nose.
“They have tubes that have been shoved through their noses and IV’s giving them fluids. It’s extremely painful and it’s against their will,” said Ruby Kaur, a lawyer for two of the detainees in Texas. Symptoms of this forced feeding include nasal and rectal bleeding and vomiting. “They want to get out and be with their families. They want to move forward with their legal cases.”