Customs and Border Protection Issues New Custody Standards

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 06, 2015

Yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued the first nationwide standards for how the agency interacts with detainees. The new agency-wide policy details how people working in the Office of Field Operations and the U.S. Border Patrol search, transport, escort and detain immigrants and migrants. It also spells out procedures for handling personal property; preventing and responding to sexual abuse and assault; and caring for at-risk individuals, which it defines as juveniles (including children who are not accompanied by a related adult), pregnant women, those on life-sustaining medication, gender nonconforming, intersex and transgender people, those with disabilities, the elderly, and family units.

The policy comes after advocacy groups collecting complaints from immigrants who say they have been subjected to unhygienic spaces, overcrowding, mistreatment and extreme temperatures. A recent study found that one in three migrants deported at the Mexican order experienced abuse at some point during the process.
“As highly accomplished and dedicated law enforcement professionals, CBP personnel are committed to ensuring the safety, security and care of people in our custody. Through this consistent and clear policy, CBP further reinforces this duty,” agency commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said in a statement about the new policy. “Our expectation is for CBP employees to treat all individuals they come in contact with dignity and respect.”

Among the reforms:

  • Limiting the use of shackles as a “punitive” measure
  • Adopting principles required by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act
  • Including language regarding gender identity and requiring that “whenever feasible,” officers and agents who conduct a search or are present at a medical examination must be of the same gender, gender identity, or declared gender as the detainee

But some say the policy doesn’t go far enough. “These standards make clear that CBP is beginning to recognize the failings of its detention operations,” says Chris Rickerd, policy counsel with the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, in a statement from yesterday. “We commend the agency’s initial effort, including its attention to children, LGBTQ persons and individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, the standards fall short of constitutional adequacy and fail to address a federal judge’s recent concern that ‘widespread and deplorable’ detention conditions exist because CBP policies aren’t implemented. CBP needs to designate full-time detention-oversight personnel, upgrade the policies announced today, and establish a robust, independent inspection regime for all holding cells.”

(H/t Associated Press)