The Problems With Federal Immigration Agencies Predate Trump

Audits dating back to 2003 highlight a culture of mismanagement and misconduct.


|||John Gibbins/TNS/Newscom
John Gibbins/TNS/Newscom

In December, the deaths of two migrant children brought a new wave of questions regarding the treatment of migrants by federal agents. In response to the second high-profile death, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced new policies for children in its custody. More recently, NBC News reported that over the last two years 22 immigrants have died while in federal custody.

But the numerous issues within the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration agencies predate Trump.

A 2005 audit of the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG), found that budget management was at times so poor employees could not complete work-related travel because "ICE had temporarily run out of money."

An OIG audit from August 2006 found that a number of misconduct reports ommitted important information. The "lack of reliable tracking and processing procedures prevents ICE from adequately documenting and monitoring completed investigations throughout the adjudication phase," the report says. As a result, ICE's "ability to ensure that disciplinary cases are adjudicated in a timely and uniform manner" was compromised.

Another OIG audit from December 2006 found serious mismanagement of migrant detainees at five different facilities. Documentation was missing for new detainees; facilities also failed to conduct initial medical screening, and to adequately document medical screenings when they did conduct them. Additionally, investigators found that 196 of the 481 non-emergency medical requests made at three of the visited facilities were not addressed within the timeframe outlined by each facility's policies.

The December report also documented a rape allegation, a strip search that occured within the view of other detainees, and a detainee's refusal to be interviewed by the OIG investigators for fear of retaliation from detention staff.

Though federal immigration services have at least 16 years of mismanagement and misconduct under their belt, criticism has been most intense under President Trump. Following the death of the first child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed limitations faced by federal agents. Cynthia Pompa of the American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. She said the tragedy represented "the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions." Pompa blamed a lack of "accountability and a culture of cruelty within CBP." Almost 20 years of recorded mismanagement would seem to back up her argument.

Just last month, videos showing staff at Southwest Key shelter dragging, slapping, and pushing migrant children throughout the facility were obtiained and released. Law enforcement in Maricopa County, Arizona, initially insisted that the actions were acceptable restraint techniques.

Due to a lack of oversight from Congress and the Justice Department, as well as our broader broken immigration system, we can sadly expect this abuse and mismanagement to continue.