Lieberman Warns of Substandard Treatment of Immigration Detainees

WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., warned Wednesday of potential widespread mistreatment of immigration detainees and insisted that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immediately improve disciplinary treatment, grievance procedures, medical care and other standards for its detainees at so called Service Processing Centers.

His comments came in reaction to a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General audit of five immigration detention centers

“I am concerned that men and women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are not being afforded established minimum levels of health, safety, and humane treatment,” Lieberman said. “I expect ICE to improve its record in the face of this recent audit and reexamine the effectiveness of its current annual review process. I am particularly concerned by troubling reports of alleged physical, sexual, and verbal abuse by corrections officers at all five detention facilities and excessive levels of disciplinary action such as the rush to lock down detainees. I am also dismayed that grievance standards do not properly explain to detainees how to report abuse or civil rights violations.”

The DHS IG audit, made public Tuesday, found that general conditions of confinement, including disciplinary policy and housing, fell below acceptable levels at all five facilities audited. Four of the five facilities were not in compliance with certain health care standards; three of the five were not in compliance with environmental health and safety concerns; and two of the facilities had inadequate inventory control over detainee money and personal property.

More specifically, for example, the DHS IG reported on the case of a female detainee who alleged she was raped by a contract guard at a San Diego detention facility and subsequently recommended a revision of existing detention standards to clearly explain how detainees should report allegations of abuse and civil rights violations.

The DHS IG also recommended a more thorough examination of disciplinary policies. According to detention standards, facilities are required to have a progressive ranking of disciplinary measures to take against detainees who break the rules, such as counseling, warnings, loss of privileges, and 24-hour lockdowns. The DHS IG found that of 146 actions studied, 120 imposed 24-hour lockdowns. “The violations associated with these lock downs included actions such as wearing a religious head garment,” the IG reported.

In the area of medical care, the DHS IG advised ICE to establish quality assurance measures to ensure medical staff conducts initial screenings of detainees, respond in a timely manner to medical concerns, and properly monitor detainees on hunger strikes or those identified as suicide risks.

Senators Lieberman and Sam Brownback, R-Kans., continue to work on legislation that would improve treatment of immigration detainees by requiring fair and humane treatment, prompt and effective investigation of grievances, prompt and adequate medical care, and limitations on shackling, solitary confinement, and strip searches. The measure also would establish an Office of Detention Oversight to conduct inspections of detention facilities, review and receive written complaints, and report back on its findings.