Mar 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DHS watchdog calls for removal of ICE detainees due to "egregious" conditions

Picture of the DHS logo
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general on Friday released a report calling for the "immediate removal" of all detainees from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in New Mexico due to "egregious" living conditions.

Driving the news: Inspector General Joseph Cuffari issued a "management alert" directing ICE to address "the critical staffing shortages that have led to safety risks and unsanitary living conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility."

  • This is the first time that the DHS inspector general calls for the immediate removal of detainees from an ICE facility, CNN reports, citing a DHS spokesperson.

State of play: In the report, Cuffari's said detainees must be relocated until the facility can ensure "adequate staffing and appropriate living conditions."

  • The inspector general's office conducted an unannounced inspection between Feb. 1 and 3, 2022.
  • Unannounced inspections are required in order "to ensure compliance with detention standards."

Details: The Torrance facility should have 245 staff members. However, at the time of the inspection, there were only 133 employees.

  • DHS found that 53% of detainee cells had toilets and sinks that were "non-functioning" or "clogged." Pictures in the report showed how these were moldy and "full of human waste."
  • There were also "security lapses" in the facility, with the report finding that "Torrance officers did properly supervise and monitor detainees in the housing units" due to "poor sight lines" and "blind spots" in certain locations.

The other side: ICE has disagreed with the inspector general's conclusions, and leadership said the recommendation to remove detainees is unwarranted.

  • "ICE is fiercely committed to ensuring that noncitizens in its custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments," ICE Acting Chief of Staff Jason Houser said in a memo to the inspector general included in the report.
  • "While ICE leadership continues to work on improving conditions at the (facility) in Estancia, New Mexico, we do not agree with the OIG's overall conclusion that it does not provide a safe, secure, and humane environment."
  • House said it appears that Cuffari's office has "falsified or mischaracterized evidence and ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions."

CoreCivic, which owns and operates the Torrance facility, said in a statement to Axios that they believe the inspector general "acted in a deeply unethical manner," according to Steve Owen, the company's vice president of communications.

The DHS inspector general's office did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Editor's note: This article was updated with new details and a statement by the owner of the Torrance facility.

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