Internal investigators have already dismissed most complaints of civil rights violations against federal agents handling the surge of illegal immigrant children on the border, the Homeland Security Department inspector general said in a new report Thursday that details near-heroic efforts agents and officers are making.
In its first report since the surge, the inspector general said agents have contracted everything from scabies and lice to chickenpox, including bringing the disease home to their own children, as they care for the unaccompanied minors. Investigators also said they saw instances of agents and officers spending their own money to buy toys, clothing and food for children and families.
The report largely clears immigration authorities of dozens of complaints of civil rights violations detailed in a complaint last month from the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights advocates.
Of the 116 complaints the ACLU filed, the inspector general has dismissed 78 of them. The other 38 are still under review.
Investigators said in addition to looking at the old complaints, they made 87 unannounced visits to 63 sites including border entry points, Border Patrol checkpoints, holding facilities where children are being kept, and the new facility in New Mexico specifically designed to detain illegal immigrant families.
They found no evidence of misconduct, and none of the children they randomly interviewed reported problems, the inspector general said.
There were some hiccups: In one instance they did find contractors weren’t providing enough food — a problem that was corrected after the investigators raised it. And the investigators said temperatures in the facilities were inconsistent, and not all of the facilities have posted their policies for unaccompanied children in English and Spanish.
The inspector general also found difficult conditions dealing with a population not necessarily used to first-world comforts.
The investigators said some illegal immigrants’ “unfamiliarity with bathroom facilities resulted in unsanitary conditions and exposure to human waste” in some of the facilities.
Investigators confirmed the administration’s own admission that it is often holding the children longer than the 72-hour deadline set in law for turning them over to social workers. The inspector general suggested staffing ratios were partly to blame, with one Border Patrol station having more than 25 children for each employee, while others had as few as three to one.
The ACLU’s initial complaint, filed in conjunction with immigrant rights groups who provide services to the children, charged that agents verbally and physically abused some of the children, or neglected their needs.
The complaint sent to Homeland Security officials listed the names of children involved, though the names agents and officers themselves were not listed.
After the complaint, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske ordered the inspector general to investigate, though he said at the time that he personally had witnessed near-heroic behavior by agents and officers digging into their own pockets to pay for food or toys.