Homeland Security employees fail to do welfare checks on some migrants in custody at the border and they lack guidance and training to ensure medical attention is delivered when needed, the department’s inspector general said in a report Friday.
The lack of clear guidance means agents are confused about who qualifies as “at-risk,” how often migrants should be checked while in custody of Customs and Border Protection, and when migrants should be given a second medical screening, the report said.
The lack of a second screening is particularly troubling given the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, the inspector general said, because migrants might not show symptoms until two days after exposure. Without another screening, CBP could release people who have the disease, the inspector general said.
“Recurring medical screening would help safeguard individuals by helping to detect symptoms that may arise after they are initially screened, especially during longer detention periods,” the inspector general said.
The new report comes after years of attention to the dangers that migrants face from their trip north and their attempts to jump the U.S.-Mexico border.
The deaths of two children in December 2018 spurred a major rethink of CBP’s role in delivering care, and Border Patrol agents are now required to do a health screening of each person encountered.
For adults and juveniles 13 or older, that means a visual check and probably some questions. For children 12 and under, it means an actual medical assessment.
While in custody, migrants are supposed to be monitored in a “regular and frequent manner.” But what that means isn’t clear.
Investigators reviewed 98 case files and found that while 35 migrants were checked every hour, five were never checked on at all.
The rest fell somewhere in between. The cases apparently were from late July to early August 2020.
Nine of the migrants were identified as “at-risk” and should have been monitored every 15 minutes, but agents didn’t meet that target.
“As a result of weaknesses in CBP’s policies, procedures, and oversight, agents and officers may have difficulty identifying individuals experiencing medical emergencies and ensuring they receive appropriate and prompt care,” the audit said.
CBP, in its official response, said the report was unfairly harsh in its “overall tone” and ignored the agency’s improvements over the last few years.
That includes expanding from a dozen medics spread out at a few facilities, to a system now in which more than 800 medics work at 70 CBP facilities and provide around-the-clock assistance.
CBP also said it has contracted with doctors and nurses to help care for migrants in custody, and the agency said they should have been included in the inspector general’s evaluation.
Despite those complaints, CBP agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations to update its procedures and training.