The public outcry that resulted from the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy led to a rollback of the policy and a court-imposed timeframe for reuniting children with their parents. But the fight for full accountability is far from over. DHS has requested $25.5 billion in taxpayers’ dollars for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), agencies that already receive as much funding as all other law enforcement agencies combined. OTG has joined a coalition of human rights and accountability groups calling on members of Congress reject those funding requests, citing in part the agency’s systemic violations of fiscal responsibility and disregard for legal reporting requirements. Only by exercising its authority can Congress begin to remedy the secrecy and confusion rampant in the immigration detention and ensure immigration enforcement agencies abide by their spending limits and transparency obligations.
Congress must demand greater transparency before providing further funding for immigration enforcement, border militarization, detentions, and deportations to protect against wasteful government practices, violations of domestic and international law, and other abuses of authority carried out in secret. Fundamental transparency demands include: ordering DHS to publish a quarterly report on all family separations that have occurred at the border; requiring the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) to conduct a prompt investigation into all cases of family separation and treatment of asylum seekers; and demanding CBP disclose information on all policies and guidelines relating to family separation that are of interest to the public. Congress also must demand compliance with existing transparency obligations relating to the government’s immigration detention system.
DHS abuses have left asylum seekers and others in detention without access to phones, counsel and regular visits from family and friends – all legally required to ensure basic due process rights. Government reports also detail a pattern of negligent misconduct regarding detainee treatment. DHS has failed to follow legal procedures when contracting with private companies that profit from the detention of immigrant families. In addition, the public, counsel for the individuals in detention, churches and other charities are left in the dark because the department has violated requirements to make a list of detention facilities public, provide regular reports on inspections or even deaths in custody. As DHS is seeking to double its detention numbers, Congress must put into place real oversight mechanism to end the trend of waste, secrecy, abuse and impunity, and hold DHS accountable.