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ICE accuses DHS inspector general of staging photograph in critical report on migrant facility

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accused the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inspector general of having staged a photograph which the watchdog used to show allegedly poor conditions at a New Mexico migrant facility — as it railed against the “integrity” of the report.

The report found that the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico, which is privately run under contract for ICE, was unsafe and unsanitary — and it took the unusual step of recommending the migrants there be transferred to different facilities.


“We have determined that ICE must take immediate steps to address the critical facility staffing shortages and unsanitary living conditions that have led to health and safety risks for detainees at Torrance,” it said.

It described an understaffed facility with unsanitary conditions including clogged toilets, non-working sinks. ICE should “immediately relocate” everyone held there, the report said.

But the enforcement agency railed against the report, with acting chief of staff Jason Houser writing in a formal response that the agency had “serious concerns about the accuracy and integrity of this report” and whether it meets government standards.

“In a number of instances, it appears OIG has falsified or mischaracterized evidence, and has ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions,” he wrote.

ICE accused the OIG inspector of “very disconcerting and unprofessional behavior” including making comments 30 minutes in that there is “no way detainees should be housed here,” suggesting a predetermined outcome.


Additionally, the agency pointed to an image of a detainee holding a cup under running water, described as “a detainee drinking water from Housing Unit Floor Mop Sink.”

“However, the Department has raised to OIG that video surveillance evidence indicates that, to the contrary, the photo was staged by the OIG inspector and at no time, either in the staging of the photo or during the period the inspector was observing the detainee, did the detainee drink the water.”

In the report itself, the OIG mentions ICE’s objections, and pushed back specifically on the photograph, saying inspectors had observed the detainee using the faucet, but did not photograph him in time.

United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas looks on during a conference as part of the High Level Security Dialogue at SRE Building on October 08, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

“Therefore OIG inspectors asked him to demonstrate how he filled the cup to allow for a photo to document the issue,” the report said. “The photo was not staged but rather a recreation of what the team had observed just moments prior.”

The report noted that the caption for the photograph had since been revised.

The company that runs the facility, CoreCivic, has been similarly critical of the report, including the allegedly staged photo. 

The company also claimed in a letter to ICE that images of clogged sinks and toilets were taken from vacant units, while saying the facility was appropriately staffed and that depictions of “flooding” were simply detainees cleaning their living areas. The letter describes the statements in the report as “egregious and defamatory.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In an email to Fox News Digital, a spokesperson accused the DHS inspectors of acting “in a deeply unethical manner, including misrepresenting evidence to negatively portray the facility.”

“This deliberate effort to falsely portray our company and this facility in a negative light is even more disturbing because it was done under the guise of legitimate oversight. We’re asking for an immediate review of the conduct of the inspectors,” ICE spokesperson Ryan Gustin said.

The report comes after DHS ended contracts in May with two detention facilities in Georgia and Massachusetts over conditions. At that time, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo to acting ICE Director Tae Johnson that “[w]e will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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