DALLAS, TX (TIP): The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a sweeping new set of standards for handling immigrant detainees, following a year of heightened criticism over agency practices.
The 31-page document—the first of its kind of the parent agency of the Border Patrol–describes acceptable procedures for nearly 100 situations, and addresses the biggest pegs for recent controversy: adequate feeding, tolerable air temperature and cleanliness in detention facilities.
The handling of immigrant detainees came to public attention especially through heavy media coverage of the summer 2014 surge of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States. Most traveled from Central America to the Texas border, fleeing violence and poverty at home.
This summer saw increased immigrant traffic at the Texas border, Gov. Greg Abbott said in September, with nearly 10,000 families or unaccompanied children caught crossing the Texas border in August.
Those apprehended immigrants are held for up to three days in CBP detention facilities, where critics have alleged families were separated from their children, inadequately fed or confined in unsanitary, excessively frigid cells.
“CBP has been under fire for some time for humanitarian violations at these facilities at the border,” said Amy Fischer, policy director of the Texas-based nonprofit Raices, which provides free legal services to immigrants at Texas detention facilities. “This was a long time coming as they’ve attempted to rectify the issues.”
In June, immigrant families filed a class action lawsuit against the CBP, claiming they were denied basic sanitation, food and water while held in detention centers. A federal judge in July ruled in their favor, saying immigrants were held in “widespread and deplorable conditions.”
Fischer recalled reports from the last two weeks of immigrants fed two bologna sandwiches per day, small children sexually abused by other detainees and food withheld as punishment.
The new CBP standards prohibit denying food or changing facility temperature as a means of punishment. They require detainees to be searched or escorted by agents of the same gender. They mandate efforts to keep children with their others, to keep facilities clean, and to move immigrants to longer-term detention facilities managed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement within three days of their apprehension.
And the standards require regular meals and snacks to be distributed and logged.
The new standards also include the agency’s first reference to homosexual or transgendered immigrants.
Fischer said she was skeptical that the new standards would be implemented without an accountability mechanism in the document.
In a press release, CBP commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said “As highly accomplished law enforcement professionals, CBP personnel are committed to ensuring safety, security, and care of people in our custody. Through this consistent and clear policy, CBP further reinforces this duty.”