ICE failed to ensure migrants were tested for COVID-19 before boarding domestic flights: DHS OIG

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not adequately follow procedures to ensure migrants encountered at the southern border were tested for COVID-19 before boarding domestic flights, according to a new Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). report.

The IG report says it identified “numerous instances” where ICE’s enforcement and removal operations (EROs) “could not provide evidence that single adults, family units and the [unaccompanied children] have been tested for COVID-19 prior to transport on domestic commercial flights,” the report states.

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ICE uses flights to transport migrants from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody to other facilities (or to health and social services for unaccompanied children) across the country, and may include ground transit, charter flights or domestic flights. For single adults, the ERO holds them in 127 detention centers across the country before they are returned or released to the United States.

“A migrant’s journey, which by definition includes crossing an international border from a foreign country, may include multiple transfers between multiple federal entities and facilities in the United States,” the report said. “Migrants traveling on domestic commercial flights while in DHS custody may find themselves in close proximity to other migrants and the general public.”

Although subject to a number of testing requirements, the IG found that the ERO does not ensure that all migrants are tested before being transported on domestic commercial flights.

“This happened because ERO’s policies are unclear and ERO does not have controls in place to enforce them. Additionally, some of these policies do not apply to [unaccompanied children]who are not being held at ICE facilities,” the report said.

The audit criticized ERO for having incomplete records for migrant transports, especially for unaccompanied children. The report found that, in the case of unaccompanied children, ERO officials shifted responsibility to health and human services and also failed to register children tested by HHS – instead using word of mouth. ear to determine which migrants were positive.

For single adults, in a sample of 24 migrants who boarded a domestic flight, the IG found that the ORE could not provide evidence that 11 migrants had been tested within three days of transport. For UACs, the report says that in one day in September, the ERO moved 45 children on domestic commercial flights to HHS facilities without verifying whether they had been tested for COVID-19.

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“These practices risk exposing other migrants, ERO staff and the general public to COVID-19. It is imperative that the ERO establish and enforce policies and procedures to mitigate public health concerns regarding COVID-19 or other future pandemics,” the report said.

The IG issued a number of recommendations, including more detailed coordination between DHS agencies and more detailed and clarified testing policies, as well as controls to ensure staff and contractors are following the guidelines. existing test requirements. It also recommends that agencies maintain “complete and accurate” COVID-19 testing and transportation records for migrants.

In a response to the OIG, ICE said it agrees “with the intent of the OIG’s findings and is considering a number of proposed actions regarding the testing of non-citizen family units or unaccompanied children already discussed”.

“ICE is committed to ensuring that non-nationals in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments, and under appropriate containment conditions,” Acting Chief of Staff Jason Houser said in a written response. “As such, ICE has implemented, executed and ensured health care protocols and testing procedures for COVID-19 in accordance with CDC guidance on the management of COVID-19 in correctional and detention facilities. .”

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The report comes as the Biden administration has been blocked from ending Title 42 public health order deportations. The order, which has been in effect since March 2020, is used to deport a majority of migrants to the border due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC had said it was appropriate to end the order, but a federal judge sided with a Republican lawsuit and imposed a preliminary injunction. The lawsuit said ending the order would exacerbate the massive border crisis and increase costs such as health care and education for the states that signed the lawsuit.

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