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ICE’s Management of COVID-19 in Its Detention Facilities Provides Lessons Learned for Future Pandemic Responses

In congregate environments such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention facilities, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can spread easily, creating unique challenges for mitigating the risk of infection and transmission of the disease. As a result, ICE took various actions to prevent the pandemic’s spread among detainees and staff at its detention facilities during 2020 and into 2021. At the nine facilities we inspected remotely, these measures included maintaining adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, enhanced cleaning, and proper screening for new detainees and staff. However, we found other areas in which detention facilities struggled to properly manage the health and safety of detainees. For example, we observed instances where staff and detainees did not consistently wear face masks or socially distance. In addition, we noted that some facilities did not consistently manage medical sick calls and did not regularly communicate with detainees regarding their COVID-19 test results.

Although we found that ICE was able to decrease the detainee population to help mitigate the spread of COVID19, information about detainee transfers was limited. We also found that testing of both detainees and staff was insufficient, and that ICE headquarters did not generally provide effective oversight of its detention facilities during the pandemic. Overall, ICE must resolve these issues to ensure it can meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future pandemics.

Read Report No. OIG-21-58

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