A company contracted by the federal government to conduct oversight on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities has reportedly been spending taxpayer dollars to draw up misleading reports about how migrants are treated in detention.
Officials at the company have refused to comment at length on the accusation, insisting they are providing impartial assessments of current conditions.
According to Kaiser Health News, the Nakamoto Group, which is tasked with overseeing conditions in migrant detention centers, described in its audits that detainees had “no substantive complaints” and that facilities that were “calm with no obvious indicators of high stress.” The Nakamoto inspections, however, stand in stark contrast to what the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own inspector general has uncovered.
Kaiser Health News compiled its report after reviewing “thousands of pages of inspection reports from 2007 to 2012, and 2017 to 2019 … made available through litigation and new federal reporting requirements.”
“None of the detainees expressed any concerns about their treatment or safety,” Nakamoto officials wrote in a March 2019 report on the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas. “Detainees were satisfied with all conditions of their confinement.”
By contrast, an OIG report made public by DHS earlier in July showed dangerous overcrowding at the same detention center and inhumane conditions that facility managers said constituted a “ticking time bomb.”
While government investigators and non-profit organizations described the conditions at the privately-run Adelanto ICE Processing Facility in California as having “inadequate detainee medical care,” and “improper and overly restrictive segregation,” Nakamoto concluded that “without exception, detainees stated that they felt safe at this facility.”
Another DHS OIG report described “unsafe and unhealthy conditions” at three other detention centers, all of which “had been given passing grades by Nakamoto,” according to Kaiser Health News.
Former DHS acting inspector general John Kelly — who serves on the board of the company that operates the largest shelter for migrant children — has reprimanded Nakamoto in the past for not being “thorough” in its inspections.
“Nakamoto’s inspection practices are not consistently thorough, its inspections do not fully examine actual conditions or identify all compliance deficiencies,” he wrote in a June 2018 OIG report.
Kelly also quoted ICE employees in the field and managers at ICE removal headquarters who called the inspections as “useless,” and “very, very, very difficult to fail.”
Despite this, Nakamoto has received over $50 million in government contracts from ICE since 2007, according to USA Spending, and Kaiser Health News reported that its current contract could secure another $16 million.
Previous administrations have also offered contracts to the company, as Kaiser Health News noted this week. It was first hired under President George W. Bush to audit immigration detention facilities. The company later had its contracts extended by President Barack Obama’s administration.
With the Trump administration transferring more migrants to ICE custody than ever, Nakamoto arguably has an incentive to issue rubber stamp inspections, immigration advocates say. The company needs the money and the government needs the detention beds.
Nakamoto, however, maintains that it is an “impartial party,” and would not comment further when confronted by Kaiser Health News on the positive assessments it had issued. As the outlet noted, after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote to the company last year to express “deep concern” about its work, Jennifer Nakamoto, the group’s owner and president, “mockingly referred to government inspectors in quotation marks and questioned their qualifications,” and maintained that the company’s “work ethic is second to none.”
“We do not report inaccurately nor do we misrepresent information in our reports,” she said at the time.
Nakamoto officials did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment on the Kaiser Health News report.