The move, which has since incited fears of breaking families apart, has also put Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities under public scrutiny, especially with its current record-high populationof more than 52,000.
Aside from its own Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) and local staff stationed in facilities, ICE monitors compliance through annual inspections by the Nakamoto Group, a key contractor that has done so in the last eight years.
In January, a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded that the agency failed to hold contractors accountable for multiple problems in detention centers, including sexual assaults, use of tear gas instead of authorized pepper spray and commingling detainees with serious criminal offenses with those who have “minor, nonviolent criminal histories or only immigration violations.”
“Although ICE employs a multilayered system to manage and oversee detention contracts, ICE does not adequately hold detention facility contractors accountable for not meeting performance standards,” the report said. “Instead of holding facilities accountable through financial penalties, ICE issued waivers to facilities with deficient conditions, seeking to exempt them from having to comply with certain detention standards.”
“However, ICE has no formal policies and procedures about the waiver process and has allowed officials without clear authority to grant waivers. ICE also does not ensure key stakeholders have access to approved waivers.”
Nakamoto, which oversees more than 100 ICE facilities, is accused of cutting corners on its own investigations, conducting improper interviews and producing inaccurate reports, according to NPR.
A man detained at a facility owned by GEO Group in Adelanto, California in October told the outlet that for 76 days, he was subject to filthy conditions, denied medications and shortly put in solitary confinement, where others allegedly came out of with bruises.
Nakamoto, however, reported no problems at the facility in the last two years, while inspections from previous years have not been made public.
In November, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats asked the company to address problems raised in another DHS report, it responded that “Without question, the detained immigrant population as a whole has a better life because of what Nakamoto does.”
That response came from Jennifer Nakamoto, the company’s Japanese American owner who described her establishment as “a small, disadvantaged, minority-owned, woman-owned business.”
In her letter, Nakamoto revealed that her mother was born in a U.S. concentration camp for Japanese Americans, while her father was among the first Japanese American members of the Green Berets.
“I am a hard-working minority woman, who took a risk 15 years ago in forming a small business to try to make my way in this great country,” Nakamoto wrote. “In regards to the OIG report your letter references about our inspection processes, our inspections are a snapshot of what we observed on that particular visit, usually once a year.
“So, what OIG members observed during their visit may not be what was present when we visited that facility.”
Given her background, the fact that Nakamoto is responsible in ensuring that detainees are treated humanely has appalled some netizens.
“When I heard of this I thought it must be a Japanese company … one owned by a JA [Japanese American] person is just … wow,” one wrote on Twitter.