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Ombudsman Office Champions Safe and Humane Immigration Detention Conditions for All

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(the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman) - The Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman (OIDO) is here to help the immigration detention community. OIDO, an independent office within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is dedicated to promoting and supporting safe and humane conditions for people being held in immigration detention. As the only DHS oversight entity solely focused on immigration detention, OIDO has staff who regularly visit facilities to speak with detained individuals about their concerns.  The Office also conducts inspections, provides recommendations, and proposes solutions to improve conditions in immigration detention.

OIDO has a team of medical experts that assess individual cases and advise on systemic and policy issues. The team is composed of physician assistants, registered nurses, psychologists, and pharmacists who work alongside OIDO’s case managers and investigators.

OIDO takes a neutral approach to observing and reviewing matters related to the conditions of immigration detention while calling attention to treatment issues in a timely manner. OIDO relies on announced and unannounced inspections from a team of dedicated investigators who visit both government-operated and privately contracted detention facilities throughout the country. The Office also places case managers within detention facilities across the country to handle complaints that range from physical needs such as access to blankets, toothbrushes, and improvements in food quality, to ensuring detention centers provide sufficient access to medical personnel, video conference areas, and law libraries.

When OIDO is called on to help with issues needing immediate attention that have not been resolved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), OIDO can call additional attention to these matters.  Their work can lead to a formal recommendation for improvement to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Congress.

Last year, OIDO issued an Ombudsman Alert regarding an independent contractor’s critical medical understaffing at the Southwest border. OIDO’s medical experts worked with CBP’s Office of the Chief Medical Officer and DHS’s Office of Health Services to address medical care deficiencies nationwide, resulting in staffing rates that have increased 100 percent nationally this year.  Following a thorough investigation, the final report, OIDO Review -- CBP Medical Support Contract for Southwest Border and Tucson, was issued in July.

When Title 42 lifted in May, OIDO surged staff to the southern border and was present at many Border Patrol locations, while continuing its regular oversight work at immigration detention facilities. “OIDO is committed to ensuring the best possible conditions for those in our immigration detention system,” said acting Immigration Detention Ombudsman David Gersten. “We position case managers and investigators across the Nation to have easy access to ICE and CBP facilities, enabling us to resolve detention issues proactively and as fast as possible.”

OIDO senior leadership also participated in these observations. One critical focus area was the care of unaccompanied children and families, along with appropriate facilities, hygiene, access to and quality of food and water, access to legal services, and the handling of personal property.

People who are detained should feel confident knowing that requesting assistance from an OIDO case manager doesn’t affect their immigration status. They should start by asking to speak with an OIDO case manager in their facility or having a representative complete a Case Intake Form for any issue related to their well-being that has not been addressed.

In one recent instance, a detained person requested assistance from an OIDO case manager, stating that he was not granted access to immigration-related paperwork that was in his possession when he first arrived at the facility. The individual informed OIDO that multiple requests for the paperwork had been made, but the documents had not been returned. According to ICE’s Detention Standards, immigration detention facilities must allow detained people to access their personal legal material. With the support of the OIDO case manager who relayed this complaint to the facility staff, the individual promptly received his documentation.

With a mission to serve as a neutral, objective, credible resource for everyone impacted by immigration detention, OIDO will continue to identify processes that are not operating as they should and work toward results. OIDO is on track to address over 20,000 cases about detention conditions by the end of the year.

“Our goal is to continue to effectively and swiftly improve conditions in all detention facilities, by working to mitigate problems and enhance processes for ICE and CBP,” Gersten said.

To learn more about OIDO or file a complaint, visit DHS.gov/OIDO.