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Unaccompanied Juveniles in INS Custody
Report Number I-2001-009
September 28, 2001


Segregation of Juveniles

The INS does not always segregate its non-delinquent juveniles from delinquent juveniles housed in the same secure detention facility.

The INS contracts with secure detention facilities to house non-delinquent and delinquent INS juveniles. Our telephone survey of the 57 secure detention facilities that housed INS juveniles in FY 2000 revealed that 34 of the facilities cannot guarantee segregation of non-delinquent INS juveniles from INS delinquent juveniles or from the county and state non-INS juvenile delinquent population. At three of the secure detention facilities we visited, the mingling of the two populations occurred.

Flores and the Juvenile Protocol Manual state that if there is no one to whom INS may release a juvenile and no appropriate licensed program (shelter) is immediately available for placement, the juvenile may be temporarily placed in an INS-contracted detention facility. These juveniles shall be separated from delinquent offenders.

An assessment is then done to determine whether the juvenile needs to be placed in a shelter or a secure facility. Flores and the Juvenile Protocol Manual both describe exceptions that allow non-delinquent juveniles to be placed in secure facilities. 10

Flores makes no further mention of continued segregation of non-delinquent juveniles who are formally placed in secure facilities from juvenile offenders. The INS does not interpret Flores as requiring that the segregation be maintained once the non-delinquent juveniles are formally placed in a secure facility and INS policy does not require it. We believe the segregation of non-delinquent juveniles from juvenile delinquents should be continued as long as the juveniles are in INS custody in order to ensure their well-being. Local and national advocacy groups cite the failure to segregate non-delinquent and delinquent juveniles as evidence that non-delinquent juveniles are unnecessarily imperiled. Some members of Congress expressed this same concern and have proposed that the INS relinquish custodial responsibility for unaccompanied juveniles.

According to the JAMS data, there were 1,933 custody instances of secure detention in FY 2000. 11 Of the secure detentions, 364 instances (or 19 percent) were placed because the juveniles were:

These placements of delinquent INS juveniles with county and state delinquents are not a violation of the policy requiring separation.

1,933 secure instances

Non-delinquent juveniles, however, accounted for 1,569 of the 1,933 instances of secure detention. Twenty-three secure detention facilities, housing 1,085 non-delinquent juveniles claimed in response to our survey that they properly segregated the delinquent from the non-delinquent juveniles. Thirty-four secure detention facilities, housing the remaining 484 non-delinquent juveniles, could not guarantee segregation from delinquent juveniles.

We emphasize the 484 instances were potential placements of non-delinquent juveniles with delinquent juveniles. We do not know how many non-delinquent juveniles were actually housed with delinquents, only that the facilities in which they were housed could not always separate them from the delinquent juvenile population. However, at two of the six facilities we visited, non-delinquent INS juveniles were commingled with delinquent juveniles. The facilities that do not separate juvenile delinquents from non-delinquents do not do so either as a matter of facility policy, a lack of physical capacity to do so, or because of emergency overflow situations.

We do know 248 of the 484 instances of possible mixing involved non-delinquent INS juveniles whose stay in non-segregating facilities overlapped with that of INS delinquent juveniles. We do not know when the stays of local non-INS delinquents overlapped with the stays of the INS juveniles in those facilities.

The majority of the 484 instances involving potential placement of non-delinquents with delinquents took place at three facilities: Liberty County Juvenile Detention Center in the Houston District in Texas had 114 instances (23.6 percent); Gila County Detention Center in the Phoenix District in Arizona had 95 instances (19.6 percent); and Martin Hall Juvenile Detention Center in the Seattle District in Washington had 86 (17.8 percent). Liberty County generally tries to keep the INS juveniles together in the same housing units regardless of their delinquency status. The facility considers physical stature of the juveniles when making placement decisions. The INS and non-INS juveniles are not separated from one another in common areas and they share some classroom activities. Gila County does not separate on the basis of delinquency. Martin Hall started taking only delinquent juveniles in 2001.

The Flores agreement allows non-delinquent juveniles who have received an order of removal to be designated as escape risks and transferred to secure facilities. Although specifically permitted under Flores, those juveniles who are placed in secure detention while awaiting removal should be segregated from delinquents.

Disturbance at Secure Facility 12

A disturbance occurred at the Liberty County Juvenile Center on May 26, 2000. From 4:00 p.m. to sometime after 7:00 p.m., 14 juveniles in INS custody barricaded themselves in their shared housing unit, destroyed property, and brandished weapons fashioned out of plastic, sticks, and glass. When INS staff was unsuccessful in convincing the juveniles to end the barricade, facility staff, local police, and state troopers subdued and restrained the juveniles until order was restored. Pepper spray was used in the process. No juveniles were seriously hurt.

Based on information in JAMS, 10 of the 14 juveniles were non-delinquent juveniles, placed at Liberty Juvenile Center as escape risks because they were ordered deported. However, three others were chargeable with a juvenile offense, and one had been convicted as a criminal adult.

The non-delinquent INS juveniles in this example were exposed to excessive risks because they were not housed separately from the delinquent INS juveniles. If non-delinquent juveniles must spend time in a secure setting, the INS should have clear written standards in the facility contract that provide for strict segregation in living quarters and minimal contact in other common areas.


  1. The INS should include and enforce standards in all contracts with secure detention facilities that require the segregation of non-delinquent INS juveniles from delinquent juveniles. These standards should provide for strict segregation in living quarters and no more than minimal contact in all other common areas. The facilities should be required to immediately notify the INS if they cannot meet this requirement so the INS can take immediate corrective action.

Juvenile and Facility Visits

Some INS districts are not complying with the Juvenile Protocol Manual requirement that district juvenile coordinators meet weekly with each unaccompanied juvenile in custody and make weekly visits to each facility. The INS does not have clear guidance that defines the responsibilities of the juvenile coordinators when making the juvenile and facility visits. The INS is not adequately documenting visits to juveniles and facilities that do occur.


In four of the eight districts we visited, district juvenile coordinators did not always see detained juveniles on a weekly basis, and in at least one district, the coordinator did not regularly visit the facilities on a weekly basis. INS staff offered a variety of reasons for why district juvenile coordinators could not comply with INS policy. They stated that the performance of the many duties essential to the care of juveniles often interferes with the district juvenile coordinators' ability to visit the facilities and juveniles on a weekly basis. 13 They also stated that districts that routinely process and house large numbers of unaccompanied juveniles and use facilities that are a long distance from the juvenile coordinator's office have difficulty meeting the requirements.

For example, the Phoenix District has several logistical difficulties. The district has two shelter facilities and three secure detention facilities that housed 620 of the 4,136 juveniles in custody in FY 2000, including most of the 376 unaccompanied juveniles apprehended by the Tucson Border Patrol Sector. All five facilities are in remote areas, with two being three to four hours away in opposite directions from the district office where the juvenile coordinator is stationed. It is virtually impossible for the one juvenile coordinator to visit each site on a weekly basis.

The number of unaccompanied juveniles housed in a given district directly increases the workload of the juvenile coordinator. It becomes especially difficult for the juvenile coordinator to visit each juvenile when facilities are operating at full capacity. Even in Los Angeles, where the INS has only one long-term detention facility and one 72-hour facility, scheduling and conducting meetings with every juvenile is very time consuming.

Definition and Documentation of Visits

The INS has no written definition of what constitutes a visit to a juvenile or facility, or how these visits should be documented. The Juvenile Protocol Manual clearly states that the district juvenile coordinator must visit each juvenile and each facility once per week.

The INS keeps few records of visits with juveniles or to facilities. The district juvenile coordinators we met stated they rarely documented visits to facilities or meetings with juveniles, unless there was a medical or behavioral problem. They did record court hearing dates and family information provided by the juveniles. Any information recorded would be placed in the juvenile's INS Alien File (A-File), the JAMS database, or the Deportable Alien Control System (DACS), used by the INS to track the juveniles through the removal process. Without maintaining regular records of actions relating to visits, the INS cannot ensure proper oversight of the juveniles and facilities, and loses a useful tool for managing the program.

In order to remain adequately informed of juveniles' situations and conditions and to maintain direct personal contact with the juveniles under its care, the INS needs to take several corrective actions. The INS needs to comply with the Flores requirement to conduct weekly visits with all juveniles in custody and to all facilities. If it is logistically impossible for the district juvenile coordinator to conduct these visits, the responsibility should be delegated to another properly trained individual. The INS needs to develop standards for what constitutes a juvenile or facility visit. The INS should properly document these visits.


  1. The INS should implement procedures that ensure weekly visits with all juveniles in custody and to all juvenile housing facilities. The procedures should establish clear descriptions of the content of the visits and documentation requirements. The INS should delegate authority to appropriately trained staff to assist district juvenile coordinators in complying with the weekly visitation requirements.

Custody Management Issues

The INS does not have clear fully developed policies for same-sex transport, documentation of transport and detention, escort upon release, use of restraints, and telephone access for juveniles in custody. INS is not always ensuring that existing policy is followed.

Same-Sex Transport

From our interviews with INS staff, we learned that because of the small number of female INS officers, the INS does not always follow INS escort policies for juveniles. The National Juvenile Coordinator told us that the policy, although not written in the Flores agreement or included in the Juvenile Protocol Manual, is that juveniles must be escorted by officers of the same sex.

The most explicit written procedure making reference to opposite sex transport officers and unaccompanied juveniles states that "[w]hen a lone officer transports [in INS vehicles] an unaccompanied detainee of the opposite sex or an unaccompanied juvenile, he/she shall maintain regular electronic voice communication with a supervisor, radio operator, or other INS personnel at a separate location, insofar as technologically possible. At a minimum, communication shall include the officer's or unit's identity, route of travel, current location, and mileage, as a security precaution." 14 Furthermore, when unaccompanied juveniles are transported on commercial airlines, the requirements are much more strict - one escort of the same sex per juvenile. 15

If same sex officers are not available, INS policy is to send two detention officers for transport purposes. However, we found that this does not always occur. For example, at the Miami District in Florida, the district juvenile coordinator routinely picked up unaccompanied juveniles of the opposite sex for transport without a second officer.

Documentation of Transportation and Detention

Although not required by Flores or the Juvenile Protocol Manual, we recommend that the INS document the transport and detention of unaccompanied juveniles. The INS documents the transport of groups of aliens (e.g., seven adults, three juveniles), but there are rarely transportation logs that list the names of all the passengers in the vehicle. All districts and sectors we visited had separate holding cells or areas designated for juveniles during processing and temporary detention; however, only one of the INS districts and none of the sectors we visited maintained a log that would indicate who was in which cell and for how long. While field officers may be using appropriate procedures during transport and detention in most situations, without documentation the INS cannot confirm this or identify problems encountered. The INS should keep detailed log records on all transport and detention of juveniles in districts and sectors. These custodial records ensure accountability for the safety and well-being of the juveniles.

Escort of Juveniles Upon Release

INS district officials told us that when released from INS custody, unaccompanied juveniles sometimes traveled unescorted. INS policy states: "Non-criminal juveniles may be escorted by certain designated non-INS personnel under contract or interagency agreement with the INS in place of INS officers." According to the National Juvenile Coordinator, current policy, though unwritten, allows only INS personnel or facility staff to escort unaccompanied juveniles upon release. In some districts, the INS places juveniles aboard commercial airlines under the supervision of airline personnel.

Unaccompanied Juvenile Lost to Kidnappers

In June 2000, the Southwest Key Corporation, under contract with the INS, released an unaccompanied 17-year-old juvenile to the custody of commercial airline personnel for safe passage between Phoenix, Arizona, and New York City, New York. Some time after arrival at La Guardia International Airport the unaccompanied juvenile was approached by a "group of Latino persons" who convinced him they were there to assist him in finding his family members. The group abducted the unaccompanied juvenile and contacted the family demanding $500.00 for the juvenile's safe release. Police were notified and the unaccompanied juvenile was safely released.

As an alternative to INS or facility staff escorts to ensure the safe release of juveniles to sponsors, in some locations the INS required the sponsors to come to the district in person to accept custody. Under this procedure, the sponsors arranged transportation for the juveniles and became responsible for them immediately upon leaving the district where they were held in custody.

Use of Restraints

Contract guards and secure facilities under contract with the INS or that have signed interagency agreements with the INS, as a regular course of action, restrain the INS's unaccompanied non-delinquent juveniles during transport. All four of the secure facilities we visited had written policy that allowed staff to handcuff, and in some cases, shackle all juveniles, including the INS's unaccompanied juveniles, during transport. For example, the Gila County Youth Detention Center, a contract detention facility in Arizona, has a standing policy that all juveniles, including INS detainees, will be handcuffed and shackled during transport.

INS policy explicitly states that although "[n]on criminal aliens may be escorted by certain designated non-INS personnel under contract or interagency agreement with the INS in place of INS Officers…[a]gencies under contract or interagency agreement with the INS that are handling non-criminal juveniles do not have authority to restrain such juveniles. INS personnel will remove restraints prior to surrendering juveniles to such agencies." 16 The National Juvenile Coordinator confirmed this policy, stating facilities should not be using restraints.

The INS needs to examine the contracts with the secure facilities to determine if non-INS personnel are inappropriately restraining INS juveniles. If so, the INS needs to develop policies and procedures to protect juveniles from excessive restraint.

Telephone Access

From reviewing facility policy and interviewing facility staff, we learned that juveniles in secure facilities were required to pay for telephone calls with their own funds. If the juveniles lacked funds to pay for telephone calls or the family could not accept collect calls, they could not always make the calls to adult family members and attorneys guaranteed to them under Flores. In addition, pro bono attorneys in two locations expressed concerns over a lack of privacy for juveniles attempting to contact them by telephone.

The Juvenile Protocol Manual lists the minimum standards for telephone use. In shelter care facilities, the standards include facilitating telephone communications with legal counsel and providing access to a telephone, which may be a pay phone, for personal calls. The standards for secure facilities state that all long distance calls should be made collect. The individual facilities' telephone procedures govern times and frequency of use, but the INS plans to add a requirement for a minimum of two personal calls a week, totaling no less than 10 minutes, with unlimited calls to attorneys and other case-related calls.

Telephone use and privacy varies considerably between shelter and secure facilities. In the shelter facilities we visited, caseworkers commonly assisted juveniles in contacting their parents, with the calls funded by the shelter or by the caseworkers personally. In the secure facilities we visited, juveniles had to make long distance calls collect, or purchase pre-paid phone cards with their own funds. In two locations, pro bono attorneys said they could not afford to accept collect calls from juveniles in remote facilities, effectively preventing the juveniles without funds from contacting attorneys. In two secure detention facilities, attorneys were concerned their telephone conversations with the juveniles could be overheard. Officials at the two facilities agreed that this concern was valid. In one of the facilities, the only available telephones were located in an open common area.


  1. The INS should implement procedures that require same-sex escort of juveniles. If same-sex escorts are not possible, procedures for appropriate alternative safeguards for juveniles should be followed.

  2. 4. The INS should implement procedures that require juvenile transportation and detention custodial records that provide sufficient accountability for all juveniles detained in the custody of the Border Patrol sectors and the districts.

  3. The INS should implement procedures that require INS officers, or designated non-INS personnel under contract with the INS, to escort and maintain physical custody of all juveniles until the juvenile is released to a sponsor.

  4. The INS should implement specific rules that govern the use of restraints on juveniles in the custody of INS officers, in shelter facilities, and in secure facilities. The INS should implement procedures to monitor compliance.

  5. The INS should revise its policy regarding telephone use by juveniles to ensure juveniles without funds are able to make appropriate telephone calls and juveniles are permitted access to telephones that at least meet the minimum requirements.

Placement Requirement

For a small number of juveniles, the INS did not meet the Flores and Juvenile Protocol Manual requirements for timely placement after apprehension. The INS could not determine if it had met the requirement for an additional number of juveniles.

3-5 day placement requirement

In FY 2000, the INS apprehended and detained 3,664 juveniles in the custody of the Juvenile Program. The INS placed 3,306 juveniles (90.2 percent) in an appropriate facility within the required time frame. 17 The INS did not meet the placement requirement policy for 19 (1 percent) juveniles. Another 339 (9 percent) juveniles were possible overdue placements. Flores and the Juvenile Protocol Manual require the INS to transfer a juvenile to a licensed shelter program within three days if the juvenile is apprehended in an INS district in which a licensed program is located and has space available. The time allowed for placing juveniles has exceptions, which include:

Possible Overdue Placements

While the INS was successful in timely placement for 90 percent of the juveniles in FY 2000, it took between 4 and 333 days to place the remaining 358 juveniles (19 actual overdue placements and 339 possible overdue placements) into an appropriate facility. Of the 339 possible overdue placements, the INS was unable to provide us with a reason for the overdue placement for 90 individuals (27 percent). The reasons for the remaining 249 overdue placements are discussed below. They are based on our analysis of data from JAMS and DACS on the juveniles whose placement was overdue, on additional information provided by the Western Regional Coordinator, and on our observations in the field.

Many juveniles claimed to be adults when apprehended and were sent to the local INS adult detention facility. After they admitted to being juveniles, they were placed in an appropriate juvenile facility. Juveniles claiming to be adults accounted for 186 (52 percent) of the possible overdue placements.

This points out the difficulty the sectors and to a lesser extent the districts have when trying to determine whether individuals taken into custody are under the age of 18. If there is no basis for making a reasonable judgment at the time of apprehension, determining age usually requires taking the juvenile to a location to have either a dental exam or an x-ray of the wrist and then trying to obtain a copy of a birth certificate. This adds time to the process and causes placements to be delayed.

Several juveniles were turned over to the INS from county, state, or the United States Marshals Service (USMS) custody. For delinquent juveniles held in state and county facilities, the date of apprehension in the JAMS database was the date the INS placed a detainer on the juveniles. A detainer is a formal request by the INS made to the detention facility to release the juveniles only into the custody of an INS officer. This date may be days, weeks, or even months before the date INS actually takes physical custody of the juveniles. For juveniles in the custody of the USMS, the apprehension date was accurate, but the INS did not take physical custody of the juvenile until they were returned to the INS. Of the 358 overdue placements, 37 (or 11 percent) were state or county juvenile delinquents or in the custody of the USMS.

The reasons for the remaining possible overdue placements (8 percent) were injured or sick juveniles kept in hospitals prior to placement in shelter facilities, juveniles apprehended more than once in FY 2000, 18 and data entry errors in JAMS.

399 possible overdue placements

Border Patrol Placement Problems

The Border Patrol apprehended 2,073 of the 3,664 total unaccompanied juveniles apprehended in FY 2000. The Border Patrol is responsible for the majority of the actual or possible overdue placements, accounting for 185 (or 51.7 percent) in FY 2000. The top four locations for overdue placements were: the Laredo, Texas, Border Patrol Sector with 58; the McAllen, Texas, Border Patrol Sector with 39; the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Sector with 27; and the Tucson, Arizona, Border Patrol Sector with 17.

In addition to reasons already discussed, there were several other reasons for the Border Patrol's overdue placements. During peak periods of apprehension along the border, these sectors encounter large numbers of juveniles for whom sufficient local bed space is frequently unavailable. Border Patrol stations are often long distances from the district office, and juvenile shelter facilities and apprehensions can occur in remote areas of the sector. The availability of transport to move juveniles from the custody of the Border Patrol to the custody of the juvenile coordinator is particularly difficult for the more remote Border Patrol locations.

The Border Patrol does not always notify the district juvenile coordinator of juvenile apprehensions, and in at least one sector placed them in a facility with which it had its own contract. Border Patrol sectors may be housing juveniles temporarily in secure facilities of which regional juvenile coordinators are unaware and which are not on the approved list of facilities. 19 Although a Deputy Chief for the Border Patrol at Central Region reported to us that no sectors in the Central Region were doing this, we witnessed this practice in the Eastern Region, and the Western Region Juvenile Coordinator told us he suspected it was happening in his region. Supervisors at all sectors we visited told us juveniles are held at the Border Patrol stations for as short a time as possible, and no longer than 24 hours.

Other Obstacles to Timely Placement

Discussions with juvenile coordinators in the Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, and Miami Districts revealed a number of other less obvious obstacles to timely placement:

The INS needs to ensure that juveniles are promptly placed into appropriate facilities. The INS needs to better monitor placements that do not occur within three to five days and decrease the length of time they are overdue. The INS also needs to modify the JAMS database so it will know when it is not meeting the 3-to-5-day placement requirement. Failure to do so "could endanger the welfare of the juveniles and risks adverse legal actions for violating the Flores agreement." 21


  1. The INS should implement procedures that require the monitoring and regular reporting of instances of non-compliance with the 3-to-5-day placement requirement. These procedures should include the reporting of justifications for the overdue placements.

  1. For example, INS is allowed to place juveniles judged to be escape risks, behavior problems, or safety risks in secure facilities rather than in shelters.

  2. Secure instances are those in which a juvenile is housed in a secure or medium-secure facility. "Instance" covers an individual custody event. The JAMS database tracks instances of juvenile detention. Whenever an unaccompanied juvenile is booked into a facility-for the first time, or for any successive transfers-an instance is recorded. It is therefore possible for a single juvenile to have several instances of detention if that juvenile is transferred several times from one facility to another.

  3. This example, and subsequent example boxes are not meant to suggest that such incidents are widespread or frequently occurring. They do, however, reflect the potential for serious harm to juveniles, if the related issues are left unaddressed.

  4. The duties of the district juvenile coordinator include: processing incoming juveniles; finding beds and arranging travel for those juveniles being transferred in and out of the district or region; ongoing work toward family reunification for all juveniles; and responding to inquiries from the court, the juvenile's attorneys, and INS attorneys regarding the immigration proceedings for the juveniles.

  5. Enforcement Standards Escorts, February 5, 1998, sub-section VI.A.

  6. Enforcement Standards Escorts, February 5, 1998, sub-section VI.D., Group Descriptors, Group1a.

  7. Juvenile Protocol Manual, sub-section 6.2.4.

  8. The INS placed 3,325 juveniles in a facility in three days, but were unable to transfer 19 juveniles to a shelter within the 5-day Flores requirement. The Flores agreement permits the INS to place juveniles in secure facilities because they require transportation from remote locations or are temporary stays awaiting appropriate placement. Both of these groups are expected to meet a 5-business-day requirement. The 3,306 also includes juveniles placed in secure facilities because they are delinquents or need to be in secure facilities for other approved specified reasons.

  9. Due to a programming error in the JAMS database, juveniles apprehended more than once in FY 2000 retain their original date of apprehension when a new record was created.

  10. Based on site visit to Miami district and with telephone interview with the Western Regional Juvenile coordinator.

  11. Of the 315 juveniles apprehended by the Los Angeles District in FY 2000, 253 were transported to non-secure facilities in other locations.

  12. INS draft report of INSpect review of the Phoenix District Office dated April 18, 2001, page 15.