Oversight of Immigration Detention: An Overview

May 16, 2022
  • Description

At any given time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains tens of thousands of people in the nearly two hundred detention centers it has at its disposal across the United States. Individuals in ICE custody, their attorneys, and immigrant advocates frequently allege inhumane conditions, violations of due process, medical neglect, and various types of abuse in these facilities. The responsibility of holding ICE accountable for such violations is spread across various offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Congress also has detention oversight responsibilities and procedures, which are beyond the scope of this fact sheet.

The first section of this fact sheet briefly describes the organizational structure of the detention oversight offices within DHS and the standards by which detention centers are governed. The second section describes the various offices to which detained individuals, their attorneys, or advocates can file complaints regarding ICE detention. It describes each office's oversight responsibility, its organizational structure, the scope of the complaints it receives, the complaint submission process, the process by which the office responds to complaints submitted, and how the office reports to Congress and the public. The third and fourth sections provide information, respectively, on offices that conduct inspections of ICE detention centers and offices that manage the related detention contracts. Some offices are featured in multiple sections because they have separate suboffices for the investigation of complaints and regular facility inspections. It is important to note that while this fact sheet describes the oversight responsibilities officially assigned to each office, these offices often fail to hold ICE accountable in a meaningful way.