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City and County Contracts With U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Local Governments Must Improve Oversight to Address Health and Safety Concerns and Cost Overruns

Report Number: 2018-117


Several cities and counties in California have contracted with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house individuals who have been detained for immigration‑related reasons (detainees). In addition, one county has an agreement with the federal government to house children under 18 years old in its juvenile detention facility who have no lawful immigration status in the United States and no parent or guardian in the country available to provide care and physical custody (unaccompanied children). The Legislature has expressed concerns about the transparency and accountability of California’s involvement in housing these detainees. The State lacks complete information about how much it costs and what conditions the detainees face. Also unclear are how many detainees are being held throughout California, where they are being held, and for how long. We found that from July 2013 through June 2018 three cities in California had contracts with ICE (ICE contracts) to house detainees: Adelanto, McFarland, and Holtville. Although these cities have subcontracted with private entities that manage and operate detention facilities (private operators) to house detainees, they have not exercised appropriate oversight. We also found that the four counties with ICE contracts that we reviewed have not adequately monitored contract costs.

Cities Have Not Ensured That Their Private Operators Are Providing for the Health and Safety of Detainees.

Federal inspections of the three private detention facilities that house detainees on the cities’ behalf have revealed serious issues that represent significant threats to the health, safety, and rights of detainees. For example, a recent inspection of the Adelanto Detention Facility reported at least one suicide and three suicide attempts, inadequate dental care, and cursory medical assessments. However, each of the three cities has subcontracted nearly all of their obligations under their ICE contracts to private operators. The cities simply pass federal payments from ICE to these subcontractors, without performing any meaningful oversight. For example, during our audit period from fiscal years 2013–14 through 2017–18, the cities did not review quality control plans, complaints, or inspection reports that would help ensure that their private operators are adequately performing their responsibilities. It is imperative that the cities ensure that their subcontractors are consistently meeting their contract obligations and are promptly addressing significant issues that inspections identify.

Counties Incurred Costs for Housing Detainees or Unaccompanied Children That Exceeded Federal Payments.

None of the four counties that we reviewed ensured that ICE fully paid for the cost of housing detainees each year during our audit period, although three of the four took some action. Orange County’s costs for housing detainees in fiscal year 2017–18 exceeded the revenue it received for doing so by roughly $1.7 million, yet it did not renegotiate its contract payment rate with ICE to ensure that ICE pays for all allowable detainee costs. Unlike Orange County, Contra Costa County estimated in 2018 that the revenue from ICE exceeded its budgeted expenditures; however, its estimate did not include significant costs such as costs of providing medical care to detainees. Thus, it cannot know for certain that its payments from ICE in fact covered its costs. Additionally, Yolo County, which has a contract with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (Refugee Resettlement) to house unaccompanied children, did not include in its budgets all of the actual costs of running the Refugee Resettlement program. Specifically, we estimate that Yolo County might have spent approximately $700,000 more than it received from Refugee Resettlement in fiscal year 2017–18 to pay for some of the program’s costs.

Summary of Recommendations


To ensure that significant health and safety issues for detainees are addressed promptly, the Legislature should consider urgency legislation amending state law to require cities that contract with ICE to house detainees to implement adequate oversight policies and practices. These policies and practices should ensure that private operators develop timely corrective actions for any noncompliance identified in federal inspection reports.


To ensure that significant health and safety issues are addressed in a timely manner, by May 1, 2019, the cities that contract with ICE to house detainees should implement oversight policies and practices to ensure that their private operators develop timely corrective actions for any noncompliance identified in federal inspection reports.


To ensure that it does not unnecessarily spend county funds to house ICE detainees, Orange County officials should renegotiate the per‑diem rate in its contract with ICE as soon as possible to arrive at an amount that covers all of the county’s allowable costs for housing ICE detainees.

To ensure that it receives funding to fully pay for the costs of housing unaccompanied children for Refugee Resettlement, Yolo County should identify all allowable costs and include them in its future budget requests to Refugee Resettlement.

Agency Comments

Orange County and the city of Adelanto agreed with our recommendations, but disagreed with some of our conclusions. Yolo County and Community Corrections agreed with our recommendations. We did not receive a response from the city of Holtville.

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