Department of Homeland Security inspectors this month found inadequate food supplies, temperature-control problems and a high employee-to-detainee ratio at some of the shelters for the unaccompanied children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border this year.
In a report released Wednesday on oversight of the detention centers, DHS Inspector General John Roth also said his office has launched an investigation of alleged “criminal behavior; violation of civil rights and liberties; and violations of laws, regulations and policies in the treatment and processing of [the children].”
The inspector general’s probe came in response to an American Civil Liberties Union complaint filed on behalf of 116 unaccompanied immigrant minors, the report said.
Roth said his office is examining 16 of the cases, while the Customs and Border Protection internal affairs division and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Professional Responsibility are looking into the rest.
DHS inspectors made unannounced visits to 63 sites, saying they “did not observe misconduct or inappropriate conduct by DHS employees” during their stops and that they did not receive further complaints during random interviews with the children, according to the report
However, the inspectors did observe some problems. Here they are:
- Contractors were not providing an adequate amount of food at one location. DHS employees purchased food to supplement the contractor supplies, sometimes using their own money. Inspectors brought the matter to the attention of CBP officials, who took steps to correct the situation during the site visit, according to Roth.
- Temperatures at some of the shelters are inconsistent, and DHS employees often cannot adjust the thermostats.
- Employee-to-detainee ratios are inconsistent. One facility had more than 25 children for each worker, while others had zero to three kids for each staff member.
- Not all shelters post copies of their policies in English and Spanish.
- Some facilities are not systematically keeping an inventory of the children’s property.
- DHS is holding some unattended minors for up to three days because no permanent shelter is available.
- The ICE system for documenting compliance with department guidelines for unaccompanied minors has experienced frequent outages, resulting in inconsistent reporting. Roth said the system is “not a reliable tool for CBP to provide increased accountability of [the children’s] safety and well-being.”
- DHS employees reported exposure to diseases and contracting scabies, lice and chicken pox. Two CBP officers said their children were diagnosed with chicken pox within days of contact with a child who had the virus.
Roth issued a series of recommendations based on the findings. They included: posting policies in English and Spanish; developing a “know your rights and responsibilities” video for the children and their families; and finding the resources needed to ensure the proper functioning of its system for documenting compliance with department guidelines.
CBP said in a statement on Friday that it “strives to protect unaccompanied children with special procedures and safeguards,” adding that “mistreatment or misconduct is not tolerated.”
The agency said it is providing regular meals to the children and ensuring that they have access to drinks and snacks throughout the day, in addition to giving medical care to those who show signs of illness.
An ICE spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon, but we’ll update this article if they reply.