Hundreds of illegal immigrants being detained at an ICE facility in Georgia were kept in rooms covered in mold, served cold meals, faced bug infestations and got substandard medical care, according to a new inspector general’s audit released Wednesday.
The Folkston Processing Center and the Folkston Annex were also understaffed, didn’t respond quickly to grievances, and misplaced detainees’ belongings, forcing them to leave the facility without getting back phones, watches and even cash they had when they arrived, the Homeland Security inspector general said.
The report was a biting account of conditions at a time when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is battling critics who say the detention system needs a full reboot.
Investigators made an unannounced inspection late last year and found Folkston did provide adequate access to legal services and the voluntary work program. But the audit found a lengthy list of problems with the facility and its operations.
“According to our observations, Folkston facilities were unsanitary and dilapidated, with torn mattresses, water leaks and standing water, mold growth and water damage, rundown showers, mold and debris in the ventilation system, insect infestations, lack of access to hot showers, inoperable toilets, an inoperable thermometer display on a kitchen freezer, and an absence of hot meals,” investigators reported.
One detainee showed investigators gnats living in the sink drain in his room.
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Another room had a sign revealing an ant infestation, with a warning not to put any detainees in there. Investigators said they found ants in other rooms where detainees were kept.
Investigators said medical staff also failed to deliver timely care, the facility didn’t meet standards for responses to detainees’ grievances, and handcuffs were used on some detainees in defiance of ICE’s policies.
ICE’s 130 detention facilities hold migrants awaiting hearings before immigration judges and migrants who have been ordered deported and are awaiting travel documents and flights to carry out the removal.
Folkston averaged 374 detainees a day in 2021.
The audit comes as ICE’s facilities are under scrutiny. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has already shuttered two facilities he said delivered substandard care for detainees, including one in Irwin County, Georgia, about two hours away from Folkston.
Mr. Mayorkas has vowed to shutter other facilities that don’t meet his standards.
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Immigrant-rights activists have questioned why Folkston remained open, saying conditions there are worse than at Irwin, which was closed.
ICE, in its official response to the report, says the investigators showed up at Folkston just as two of the facility’s five water heaters were out, which explains the lack of hot water. That was fixed by the time the four-day inspection concluded.
Jason Houser, ICE’s chief of staff, said showers the investigators flagged as problematic were already slated for repair, but they took months to complete.
ICE also said it rushed to make repairs to broken plumbing, caulked all windows and cleaned mold from vents.
The facility hired a psychologist to provide weekly telehealth visits for detainees, promised better monitoring of medical appointments and vowed better handling of grievances. ICE also promised to abide by its rules on handcuffs.
“ICE remains committed to ensuring that noncitizens in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement,” Mr. Houser wrote.