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Watchdog Finds 'Egregious' Conditions At ICE Facility In Aurora

(CNN/CBS4) - The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found expired food and dilapidated bathrooms during unannounced visits to four immigrant detention facilities in 2018, according to a not-yet-released report obtained by CNN.

(credit: CBS)

The kitchen at one facility was in such poor shape -- with open packages of raw chicken leaking blood over refrigeration units -- that the kitchen manager was replaced while the IG inspection was ongoing.

The report describes conditions at facilities last year, but it comes amid a worsening situation along the US-Mexico border, where the number of migrants crossing the border illegally has surpassed previous years. The dramatic increase in arrivals -- the majority of whom are families and children -- has overwhelmed the Department of Homeland Security, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency reviewed in the latest report.

President Donald Trump has railed against the swell of migrants, threatening tariffs against Mexico and pushing for additional barriers along the border.

More than 144,000 migrants were encountered or arrested at the US-Mexico border in May, a roughly 32% increase over April and the highest monthly total in 13 years, Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday, including over 11,000 unaccompanied children.

As of Monday, there were around 52,000 single adults in ICE custody -- an all-time high that exceeds funding levels yet again, according to ICE.

The administration has also asked Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency funding for humanitarian assistance, border operations and mission support at the border.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, representing Colorado's 6th District, visited the Immigration and Customs facility in Aurora last month where he talked about a bill that would prevent Homeland Security from blocking members of Congress from visiting detention centers.

"It took us 24 days to finally get a tour of the facility after numerous requests. During that time there were outbreaks, there were disease outbreaks and continued reports of disturbing conditions," Crow said at the time.

New acting ICE Director Mark Morgan told reporters earlier this week that the administration is "in the middle of a breaking point."

The latest report obtained by CNN comes on the heels of a DHS IG report released Friday that found "dangerous overcrowding" and unsanitary conditions at an El Paso, Texas, Border Patrol processing facility following an unannounced inspection last month.

Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette released this statement concerning the ICE report, "This report by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General confirms what we have been hearing for quite some time: that detainees at ICE's Aurora facility are not being properly cared for. ICE says that it has taken steps to correct the issues raised in this report, but I believe more needs to be done. We need to take a hard look at ICE's use of these private prisons and, at the very least, make clear to the agency that outsourcing its responsibility to physically hold these detainees does not absolve it of its obligation to properly care for them."

Prior to this year's surge of migrants, some of ICE's facilities were not up to standard, according to the new IG report. Between May and November 2018, the inspector general visited four ICE facilities: Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California; LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana; Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey; and Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado -- facilities that in total can hold nearly 5,000 detainees.

"Although the conditions varied among the facilities and not every problem was present at each, our observations, interviews with detainees and staff, and reviews of documents revealed several persistent issues," the report reads.

The IG observed unsanitary conditions in the bathrooms at the Adelanto and Essex facilities during their surprise visit. "[W]e observed detainee bathrooms that were in poor condition, including mold and peeling paint on walls, floors, and showers, and unusable toilets," the report reads.

Other issues raised include spoiled food, lack of provisions, like lotion, that is required for detainees, and strip searches with no documented justification. The report notes that ICE detainees "are held in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not supposed to be punitive."

All four facilities had "food service issues."

"At Essex, the food handling in general was so substandard that ICE and facility leadership had the kitchen manager replaced during our inspection," the report reads. At that facility, the IG found open packages of raw chicken leaking blood over refrigeration units, lunch meat that appeared spoiled, and moldy bread.

In a response included in the report, ICE said it has resolved, or worked to resolve, the issues flagged by the IG since the visits. The agency said it is "training staff on proper food handling, removing and replacing menu items with input from detainees, and conducting random food quality testing" at Essex. The agency also reported improvements to food service in the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, which was dinged for food handling issues.

ICE said it's since made repairs to the bathrooms as well. The agency also acknowledged the lack of some toiletries and said it's improved the inventory for new detainees.

Some of the conditions observed at Adelanto and Essex facilities were brought to the attention of ICE ahead of Thursday's report.

A DHS IG report last September laid out concerns about nooses in detainee cells, misuse of solitary confinement and delayed medical care at the Adelanto facility. The alert was part of the ongoing review of ICE's detention facilities.

Braided bedsheets hanging from vents -- referred to as nooses by staff and detainees -- were found in about 15 cells inspectors visited, according to the report. That's a violation of ICE standards, the report says, and "shows a disregard for detainee health and safety."

One detainee told inspectors: "I've seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them 'suicide failures' once they are back from medical."

ICE said at the time that it had scheduled a contractor to inspect the facility and an additional detention facility review.

By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

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