ICE Rebuts DHS Watchdog Recommendations in Detention Facility Report

April 5, 2021 by Reece Nations
CORRECTS CITY TO MISSION FROM MCALLEN - A chid stands next to her family's belongings as they wait for transportation at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, Texas, on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021. U.S. authorities are releasing migrant families at the border without notices to appear in immigration court, and sometimes without any paperwork at all. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

ELOY, Ariz. — Detainees at an immigrant detention center in Arizona are alleging they experienced mistreatment, slurs and abuse by the staff after a Department of Homeland Security audit of the facility. 

Immigrants held at the La Palma Correctional Center told DHS Office of Inspector General officials they experienced excessive punishment for peacefully protesting the facility’s lenient COVID-19 mitigation policies. One ICE official refuted the claims as “uncorroborated” in a letter to the inspector’s office responding to the allegations. 

On April 13, 2020, LPCC staff deployed chemical agents and used pepper balls to disperse detainees who had gathered outside their cells in a housing area to protest the facility’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Six grievances were filed in response to the staff’s use of force, all of which were either denied or rejected. 

“During our virtual inspection, we directed a livestream video walk-through of the facility where we inspected LPCC facilities including detainee housing units, the kitchen, medical units, and indoor and outdoor recreation areas,” the inspector’s report said. “We viewed surveillance video from areas within the facility including housing units and of specific use of force incidents involving detainees. We also interviewed ICE personnel, LPCC officials, and detainees by telephone.” 

The report concluded that the LPCC grievance officer improperly rejected valid detainee concerns, including property grievances. The inspector’s review of the facility found that detainees were requesting refills for chronic care medications through sick call refill requests despite Performance-Based National Detention Standards mandating the facility’s pharmacy monitor and distribute the medicine without the need for the requests. 

In one instance, a detainee who is a cancer patient was unaware that their leukemia medication had run out after medical staff had not ordered a refill on time. The detainee’s medical file showed that a health care provider incorrectly informed them that they were at fault for the interruption for failing to fill out a refill request. 

Five sick call log entries were found by the DHS inspector where detainees sought refills on medication that the facility should have refilled automatically. Moreover, the report found that segregated detainees were not consistently being provided required services such as legal materials, recreation time or access to the commissary. 

“In August 2020, three separate substantiated grievances found officers not wearing proper gloves in the housing units,” the report said. “LPCC took action requiring the staff responsible for detainee mistreatment to complete training on professionalism, while the staff who did not wear proper gloves received counseling. All staff returned to their prior assignments.” 

Between Feb. 1 and Aug. 24, 2020, detainees filed 1,283 grievances against LPCC staff, 487 of which were complaints about mistreatment by staff. When the facility experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 in August 2020, LPCC officials undertook some preventative measures such as restriction visitation and serving meals in housing areas, although the staff did not ensure all detainees practiced social distancing or were provided masks. 

Instances of verbal abuse and racial slurs were also documented within the report. Some examples of abusive language and ridicule towards detainees in the report were substantiated by the LPCC grievance officer. 

ICE resolved three of the eight recommendations in the inspector’s report regarding the administering of detainee medication, communication logs and the facility’s grievance system. 

However, the recommendation regarding the grievance system was not resolved by the inspector’s analysis, which maintained it had not received documentation showing that LPCC is providing timely and complete responses for grievances filed by detainees. 

ICE chose not to concur with five of the eight recommendations in the inspector’s report. The recommendations ICE did not concur with pertain to remedial action in response to LPCC’s use of force incidents, COVID-19 safety standards, segregated detainees’ access to required services, grievance policy procedure, detainee request logs and access ICE enforcement and removal operations deportation officers. 

“During our unannounced inspection of LPCC, we identified violations of ICE detention standards that threatened the health, safety, and rights of detainees,” the report said. “LPCC complied with the ICE detention standard regarding classification. However, detainee reports and grievances allege an environment of mistreatment and verbal abuse, including in response to detainee peaceful protests of the facility’s handling of the pandemic.” 

The report continued, “In addressing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), LPCC did not enforce ICE’s precautions including facial coverings and social distancing, which may have contributed to the widespread COVID-19 outbreak at the facility. In addition, LPCC did not meet standards for medical care, segregation, grievances, or detainee communication.”

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