Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden this week joined their colleagues in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding answers following the senators’ investigation of private prison companies’ compliance with federal immigration detention standards and the private auditor responsible for inspecting detention facilities.
Co-signers include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
The senators’ investigation revealed that neither the private prison companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for grievous failures identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). It also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities, and the OIG about the quality of Nakamoto’s inspections.
The DHS OIG published several recent reports regarding ICE’s oversight of immigration detention facilities, one of which revealed that certain detention facilities, including one operated by CoreCivic, “undermine[d] the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” The OIG later found severe health and safety violations that “pose[d] significant health and safety risks” to detainees at another facility operated by GEO Group. The OIG also found that inspections conducted by Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities, are inadequate and potentially underreporting violations.
Following these reports, the senators in November 2018 wrote to CoreCivic and GEO Group, the two largest private immigration detention contractors, regarding the conditions in their facilities, and to Nakamoto Group, asking about the adequacy of their inspections.
In their letter to ICE, the senators wrote that, “after reviewing these responses, we are even more concerned over the problems with ICE’s contract detention centers and inspection services. No entity took responsibility for the numerous failures identified by the DHS Inspector General. The responses from CoreCivic and GEO failed to address our concerns, raising questions about their ability and willingness to meet federal detention standards designed to ensure the health and safety of immigrants in detention. The Nakamoto Group has been—according to OIG—responsible for insufficient inspections of detention facilities. But their response to these OIG findings provided no indication that the company would meaningfully respond to the OIG findings and address deficiencies in its inspection practices and, according to a new letter we received from OIG earlier this month, ‘made factual errors …misrepresent[ed] OIG reporting.’”
“Based on these responses, it appears that there is no entity in charge of and taking responsibility for the conditions at ICE detention facilities,” the senators concluded in their letter to ICE.
The Nakamoto response raised particular concerns because it revealed that the company under contract with ICE to ensure safety and quality standards in immigration detention refuses to accept the findings of DHS’s own independent inspectors, or to take any responsibility for their own work to hold private detention centers accountable.
To obtain additional context on the Nakamoto response, the Nakamoto letter was sent to the DHS OIG and requested their input. The OIG response—also released this week—indicated that Nakamoto’s response to the Senate inquiry “makes factual errors and misrepresents OIG reporting,” “misquote[s] [the OIG’s] public report and show[s] a misunderstanding of [the] findings,” and contains “gross misrepresentations of [OIG] fieldwork techniques,”—and reiterated significant concerns with Nakamoto’s inspection practices.
“The response to our investigation was distressing, revealing a failure at multiple levels,” the senators also noted in their letter to ICE. “We wish to bring these issues to your attention and request information about how your agency plans to address these severe management deficiencies, which appear to be contributing to conditions that cause considerable harm to immigrants in detention.”
The senators asked ICE a series of questions regarding the effectiveness of Nakamoto’s inspections, how the agency will address the problems raised by the DHS OIG, and Nakamoto’s refusal to acknowledge the OIG’s findings. The senators also asked ICE to answer all of the questions that CoreCivic and GEO Group declined to answer in response to their initial inquiry.
The senators requested that ICE respond to their letter by no later than April 26, 2019.