FOIA Request Yields 25,000 Pages of Documents from the OIG

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG or OIG) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with primary responsibility for oversight of all DHS programs and operations. DHS OIG’s mission is “[t]o provide independent oversight and promote excellence, integrity, and accountability within DHS”; its vision is to “[d]rive transformative change to improve DHS programs and operations.”[1]

DHS OIG occupies a unique position within the tangled web of DHS oversight. When a complaint is filed against any DHS component agency or employee, OIG has the right of first refusal to investigate that complaint.[2] Practically, OIG has two options: It may investigate the complaint itself, or it may refer the complaint to another DHS component agency for investigation, fact-finding and/or disciplinary action.[3]

Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sought records related to the abuse or mistreatment of children while in DHS custody between 2009 and 2014. OIG produced the most voluminous set of documents as compared to those produced by other DHS component agencies. In total, DHS OIG produced approximately 25,000 pages of documents (the “OIG production”).

Records received the Office of the Inspector General can be accessed here:

The OIG production contains copies of children’s complaints, case summary reports and documents indicating referrals of complaints from OIG to another DHS component agency. The OIG production also contains records associated with its short-lived investigation into a June 2014 administrative complaint filed on behalf of 116 unaccompanied children by a coalition of advocates, including the ACLU. These records include checklists related to OIG’s site inspections and the three brief (2-3 pages) reports OIG produced between July and October 2014.[4]

Most notably, the OIG production includes a spreadsheet summarizing 214 complaints (dated 2009 to 2013) from minors alleging poor conditions of confinement and/or physical, verbal and sexual abuse by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials or Border Patrol agents. Significantly, the spreadsheet excludes complaints filed in 2014, when there was a documented increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Further, OIG has never clarified whether the spreadsheet is an exhaustive listing of all complaints related to child abuse or mistreatment that it received between 2009 and 2013.

For these reasons, it is likely that the 214 complaints documented in the DHS OIG spreadsheet represent only a fraction of the total complaints of abuse filed between 2009 and 2014 (the period covered by the ACLU’s FOIA request).

All but one of the 214 documented complaints are marked “Closed Not Converted” under “Investigation Status,” with a note that the complaint was “Referred – No Reply” to CBP. As of June 2019, the ACLU is unable to verify whether CBP actually investigated any of these 214 complaints following referral from OIG, or did so in a timely manner. Because each DHS component agency uses different complaint numbers and the government has withheld the names of agents or officers associated with the alleged abuses, the ACLU is unable to track down these cases in CBP’s parallel document production.

Equally important, there is nothing in the OIG production that indicates that OIG itself followed through on any of its CBP referrals. These points are significant because DHS component agencies claim that none of the allegations described in the records produced were “substantiated.” This may prove to be due to a failure to promptly or fully investigate (rather than a finding, following investigation, that the alleged abuses did not actually occur).

Records received from each DHS sub-agency can be accessed here:

[1] About Us, U.S. Dep’t Homeland Sec. Off. Inspector Gen., https://www.oig.dhs.gov/about.

[2] Pivotal Practices Consulting LLC, CBP, Complaints and Discipline Systems Review: Public Report of Findings and Recommendations 29 (Nov. 23, 2015), https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2016-Mar/cbp-complaint-discipline-system-review.pdf.

[3] Id.

[4] DHS OIG, Oversight of Unaccompanied Alien Children (July 30, 2014) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/2014/Over_Un_Ali_Chil.pdf; DHS OIG, Oversight of Unaccompanied Alien Children (Aug. 28, 2014), https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/pr/2014/Sig_Mem_Over_Unac_Alien_Child090214.pdf; DHS OIG, Oversight of Unaccompanied Alien Children (Oct. 2, 2014) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/Mga/2016/Over_Un_Ali_Child_100214.pdf; see also DHS OIG, Press Release: Improvements Continue at Detention Centers (Oct. 6, 2014), http://1.usa.gov/1oKw2Kq.

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