Immigration Detention:

Additional Actions Could Strengthen DHS Efforts to Address Sexual Abuse [Reissued on December 6, 2013]

GAO-14-38: Published: Nov 20, 2013. Publicly Released: Nov 20, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sexual abuse and assault allegations data are not complete, a fact that could limit their usefulness for detention management. ICE’s data system described 215 allegations of sexual abuse and assault from October 2009 through March 2013 in facilities that had over 1.2 million admissions; however, ICE data did not include all reported allegations. For example, GAO was unable to locate an additional 28 allegations detainees reported to the 10 facilities GAO visited—or 40 percent of 70 total allegations at these 10 facilities—because ICE field office officials did not report them to ICE headquarters. ICE issued guidance on reporting sexual abuse and assault allegations, but has not developed controls to ensure that field office officials responsible for overseeing all facilities are reporting allegations to ICE headquarters. Detainees may also face barriers to reporting abuse, such as difficulty reaching the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) telephone hotline, one of various means for reporting abuse. For example, GAO’s review of data maintained by ICE’s phone services contractor for fiscal years 2010 through 2012 showed that approximately 14 percent of calls placed to the hotline from about 210 facilities did not go through because, for example, the call was not answered. OIG officials were not aware that the OIG could monitor hotline connectivity through these data. Developing additional controls to better ensure reporting of allegations and coordinating with the OIG to better ensure OIG access to hotline connectivity data in accordance with federal internal control standards could better position ICE to assess its sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention (SAAPI) efforts.

DHS included various SAAPI provisions in three of four sets of detention standards it uses at detention facilities, but does not have reliable and consistent information to determine which provisions apply to which individual facilities. For example, GAO’s review of a nonprobability sample of 20 facility contracts and agreements showed inconsistencies in ICE’s data on which detention standards should be in place for almost half of the facilities. Documenting and maintaining reliable information about which detention standards apply to which facilities in accordance with federal internal control standards could better ensure that ICE officials, facility administrators, and other stakeholders have a reliable and consistent understanding of facility requirements and position ICE to plan for SAAPI program operations.

DHS focused its sexual abuse and assault oversight on 157 of approximately 250 facilities that housed about 90 percent of detainees and found most facilities compliant with SAAPI provisions from fiscal years 2010 through 2013. ICE used various oversight mechanisms, such as inspections, onsite supervision, and facility self-assessments, and identified SAAPI-related deficiencies. However, facility inspection reports did not consistently assess all SAAPI provisions expected by inspection protocols. For example, during 27 percent of inspections performed during this time period inspectors did not assess whether facilities met the provision to have sexual abuse statistics and reports readily available for review. Developing a process for ensuring consistency across and completeness in how SAAPI inspections are performed in accordance with federal internal control standards could help ensure that ICE management has complete information about SAAPI compliance across all detention facilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2003 Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to protect individuals against sexual abuse and assault in confinement settings, including persons potentially subject to removal from the United States housed in DHS’s detention facilities. GAO was asked to review DHS efforts to address issues of sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities. This report examines (1) what DHS data show about sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities, and how these data are used for detention management; (2) the extent to which DHS has included provisions for addressing sexual abuse and assault in its detention standards; and (3) the extent to which DHS has assessed compliance with these provisions and the results.

GAO reviewed documentation for 215 sexual abuse and assault allegations reported to ICE headquarters from October 2009 through March 2013; analyzed detention standards and inspection reports; and visited 10 detention facilities selected based on detainee population, among other things. The visit results cannot be generalized, but provided insight.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS (1) develop additional controls to ensure all allegations are reported to headquarters, (2) coordinate OIG access to hotline connectivity data, (3) document and maintain reliable information on detention standards, and (4) develop a process for performing oversight of SAAPI provisions consistently across facilities. DHS concurred and reported actions to address the recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2014, ICE reported that it planned to address this recommendation by: (1) issuing supplemental guidance to Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices reiterating the requirement to report all allegations of sexual abuse or assault to the Joint Intake Center (JIC); (2) including any identified cases where ERO field personnel were aware of an allegation of abuse or assault but failed to report it to the JIC in the ICE Prevention of Sexual Assault Coordinators Quarterly Report; and (3) developing a sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention component for inclusion in ERO's annual Self Inspection Program for field office staff. At that time, ICE had issued supplemental guidance to field offices and anticipated completing the remaining two initiatives by the end of fiscal year 2014. While issuing supplemental guidance may strengthen ICE's training efforts, it is does not constitute an internal control consistent with the recommendation. We will assess whether ICE's two remaining initiatives are responsive to the recommendation upon their implementation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that ICE has complete and accurate information needed for SAAPI program decision making and planning, the Director of ICE should develop and implement additional internal controls to ensure Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field offices' reporting of allegations of sexual abuse and assault to the Joint Intake Center.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 3, 2014, ERO disseminated broadcast guidance to Assistant Directors, Field Office Directors, Deputy Field Office Directors, and Assistant Field Office Directors regarding the general and administrative investigations files that must be maintained when there is a sexual abuse or assault allegation. The guidance is applicable to all detention facilities and outlines the types of documentation that facilities are expected to collect and maintain. In addition, the guidance establishes a requirement for facility components (e.g., medical services) to share necessary information with their Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention Program (SAAPI) Coordinator to ensure required documents are placed in the investigative file. Distributing this guidance should help ensure that ICE has complete and accurate information needed for SAAPI program decision making and planning, consistent with the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that ICE has complete and accurate information needed for SAAPI program decision making and planning, the Director of ICE should clarify guidance for ICE and facility administrators on how to correctly document investigations into sexual abuse and assault allegations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2014, ICE reported that in January 2014 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and ICE Office of Acquisition Management (OAQ) began meeting quarterly to review the ICE Authorized Facilities List to identify and reconcile any discrepancies in their detention standards data. In April 2014, ERO and OAQ concurred that the detention standards-related information maintained in the ERO Facility Performance Management System and by OAQ is accurate. In addition, ICE modified the ICE Authorized Facilities List to track both the detention standards cited in facilities' contracts and the detention standards under which facilities were last inspected. Further, ICE reported that ERO and OAQ meet biweekly to discuss contract-related updates and modifications for detention facilities. ICE's ongoing monitoring of the accuracy of detention standards data and documentation of facility inspections under detention standards more rigorous than those cited in a facility's contract should help ensure that ICE has complete and reliable information available for decision-making and planning, consistent with the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that ICE has complete and accurate information needed for SAAPI program decision making and planning, the Director of ICE should document and maintain reliable information on the detention standards cited in facilities' contracts and agreements, and record any agreements by facilities to undergo inspection under more rigorous standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2014, ICE reported that in January 2014 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) began meeting on a monthly basis with the ICE inspections contractor to discuss changes, updates, and concerns related to the facility inspection process. In addition, ICE reported that it planned to provide training to the ICE inspections contractor on the impact of the DHS Prison Rape Elimination Act rule and revised ICE sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention (SAAPI) guidance on facility inspections. While the meetings and training ICE described may have positive benefits, these actions do not constitute a process to monitor the results of annual inspections.

    Recommendation: To ensure that ICE has complete and accurate information needed for SAAPI program decision making and planning, the Director of ICE should develop a process to monitor the results of ERO annual inspections conducted under the 2008 SAAPI standard to ensure consistency across the inspections and completeness in how the inspections are performed, and address any inconsistencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2014, ICE reported that ICE Enforcement and Removal (ERO) had contacted its telephone contractor to determine whether the contractor could provide a weekly or monthly report on the status of all calls to the OIG Hotline from detainees at ICE detention facilities. The contractor indicated that it could provide a file of all call activity to the OIG Hotline from the pro-bono platform but was working to clarify if it could provide additional data fields requested by ERO. The contractor was to provide a sample report to ICE by January 31, 2014 for review and discussion with the OIG. In June 2014, ICE reported that the OIG had implemented a new hotline staffed by live operators, but did not provide evidence of coordination to provide the OIG with access to hotline connectivity data. Providing the OIG access to these data could be beneficial whether or not the hotline is staffed by live operators, as having the data could help ensure the OIG has information for identifying and addressing any technical problems detainees face in reaching the OIG hotline. This recommendation will remain open until this action is taken and we receive documentation of its implementation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the DHS OIG has information for identifying and addressing any technical problems detainees face in reaching the OIG hotline, the Director of ICE and the DHS Deputy Inspector General should coordinate OIG access to OIG hotline connectivity data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: ICE is the principal DHS contact for this recommendation. Once ICE officials indicate that they are providing the OIG with connectivity data, we will engage with the OIG to ensure that the OIG is receiving the data and that the data are responsive to the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the DHS OIG has information for identifying and addressing any technical problems detainees face in reaching the OIG hotline, the Director of ICE and the DHS Deputy Inspector General should coordinate OIG access to OIG hotline connectivity data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Office of Inspector General

 

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