September 14, 2021 

OIG Findings of ICE Mismanagement Confirm Whistleblower Concerns Raised Throughout the Pandemic 

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, whistleblowers have spoken up about mismanagement of COVID-19 in ICE facilities. Now its oversight agency validated those concerns and issued recommendations for reform.  

WASHINGTON – On September 7, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released “ICE’s Management of COVID-19 in its Facilities Provides Lessons Learned for Future Pandemic Responses,” a report outlining Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) handling of COVID-19 along with recommendations for moving forward.  

In the course of their investigation of nine Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, the Inspector General found instances in which ICE failed to properly manage the safety and health of detained immigrants. For example, facility staff met with immigrant detainees without wearing masks and a failure to manage sick calls from detainees consistently across detention facilities has made it impossible to assess whether detainees had received medical care in a timely manner.  

The need for improvement inside detention facilities comes as no surprise to our organization or the numerous whistleblowers we have worked with to report wrongdoing concerning ICE’s pandemic response. ICE’s mismanagement and failure to properly safeguard detained immigrants and detention facility staff from unnecessary health hazards has been clear since the earliest days of the pandemic: from DHS’s own medical experts Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah “Jody” Rich warning that COVID-19 would lead to a “tinderbox scenario,” to anonymous whistleblowers at the Richwood immigration detention facility in Louisiana (one of the nine facilities where the OIG conducted an inspection for its report) alleging knowing noncompliance with CDC guidelines, to nurse Dawn Wooten who reported a lack of COVID-19 protections among other medical abuses.  

The Inspector General’s findings are notable because while it is clear that ICE has taken some protective measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, according to the OIG, ICE’s response is still “a work in progress, even after a full year.” It is well past time for DHS to do all it can to address and prevent the spread of COVID in ICE detention.  

Our Senior Counsel Dana Gold commented: 

The OIG’s findings are devastating not only because they document significant and systemic failures at multiple ICE detention facilities to protect against the spread of COVID in ICE detention, but even worse, because they demonstrate ICE and its contractors’ willful disregard of the warnings of their own whistleblowers who attempted to protect immigrants, workers and the public from unnecessary illness and death. Hopefully with the release of the OIG report, 18 months and an estimated nine detainee deaths, 27,346 detainee cases, and untold spread to workers and communities since the beginning of the pandemic later, DHS will act with alacrity to reduce the number of immigrants in detention and improve conditions for those who do remain. 

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director 
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 926-3304 

Government Accountability Project 

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.