DHS security guard detects widespread mistreatment of immigrants at ICE facility

Immigrants housed in an Arizona immigrant center were mistreated last year, from inadequate health care

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During a remote inspection of the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, the Inspector General (OIG) Department of Homeland Security found violations that endanger the "health, safety and rights" of detainees, according to a report released Thursday. Citing nearly 1,300 complaints from immigrants held in detention centers, the interior ministry said detainees portrayed "a place of ill-treatment and verbal abuse."

Immigrants held at the Immigration and Customs Enforcing (ICE) Eloy, run by a for-profit prison company, told inspectors to hold peaceful protests in April 2020 because they were concerned that workers were not providing them with the necessary protective equipment to curb the spread of coronavirus. Workers at the center sprayed pepper spray to stop one of the protests on April 13, according to a Thursday report with security figures.

A screenshot of surveillance images since April 13 shows twelve inmates sitting or standing outside their cells and inside a typical restaurant as part of a peaceful protest. One recent screenshot of the day shows at least a dozen staff members, many armed with assault rifles, aiming a hand spray spray on a small group of detained prisoners. This photo is of a single employee spraying a foreigner who appears to be trying to get up.

DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS OFFICIAL SECURITY INSPECTOR-GENERAL

Another foreign inmate said he had been injured by pepper spray balls, but did not file a complaint for fear of retribution. Those who lodged the appeals were denied by the staff of the detention center, the OIG report said.

The detainees told investigators that foreigners who participated in the protests were also punished for "prolonged isolation." According to investigators, those detained separately reported being denied access to bedding and clothing, legal items, a commission, a haircut and entertainment - it needed help for all the detainees.

In addition to the physical abuse, the report found that staff members humiliated and mistreated detainees, citing a single complaint from an immigrant who reported being called a racist slogan by a man who hung up the family phone and threatened to blow up the pepper.

A report on Thursday confirmed inmates' concerns about the spread of HIV within the Arizona detention center. The inspectors said they found that the staff at the center had failed to ensure that all detainees had and wore face masks and were accustomed to socializing, noting the set goals "could contribute to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility."

In August, more than 200 of the 1,200 foreign nationals detained at the Eloy center were tested for HIV.

The inspectors also speculated on alternative medical services, which are commonly found in the external and internal reports of the growing ICE detention system, which mainly includes regional prisons and detention centers run by prison companies, such as CoreCivic. Reports say the Eloy medical unit has "very few staff members," citing 21 vacancies that self-examination may have reduced the response to sick calls and attempts to provide immigrants with prescribed treatment.

"One of the detainees, a cancer patient, has run out of leukemia treatment after doctors did not order it to be completed on time," the report said. "Since the detainee was not on treatment, he did not know when the treatment would expire and how long it would take medical personnel to refill it."

DHS inspectors found that Arizona detention staff had strictly complied with ICE immigration laws by violating immigration laws only for those with criminal records. All immigrants detained by ICE, including those suspected of crime or conviction, are legally held in public custody.

In response to this report, ICE did not agree with most of the findings. It said the examples of abuse cited in the report were in line with prison rules that were jailed in 2011 and that employees who mistreated inmates "were taking steps to remedy the situation." The organization also made sure that it provided immigrants with the necessary services.

ICE said the Eloy center complied with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The organization said it provided soap and masks to immigrants in the area, as well as community orientation training.

A CoreCivic spokesman told CBS News that the company agreed with ICE's response, saying the report was "wrong with [La Palma Correctional Center] in more ways than it is right."

"We are working every day in a challenging environment that has been made more difficult by the global epidemic that you have and continue to fight," spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said in a statement. "We always appreciate the feedback and accountability of our colleagues, and we strive every day to do better in our service to them and the people we care about."

DHS inspectors noted that during the subsequent inspection in 2021, the Eloy detention center complied with laws relating to foreign medical services. The report also said that the center has developed a new policy that requires staff to monitor and automatically complete treatment for inmates with chronic illnesses.