Beginning in June 2010, CRCL’s Compliance Branch has implemented many new processes to make the CRCL complaint system more responsive and effective. We developed our changes after conducting roundtables with non-governmental (NGO) advocacy organizations, and receiving NGO and internal DHS comments. Major changes brought about by the review include:
Easy-to-Use Optional Online Complaint Submission Form
An optional PDF complaint form is now posted on CRCL’s website to guide complainants. Not all fields of this form are required to be filled out, and forms may be submitted anonymously (although, as the form explains, anonymous submission can interfere with CRCL’s ability to investigate). For those with limited English proficiency, the form will be posted and accepted in multiple languages in April 2011.
Expedited Complaint Process
CRCL has implemented new “short-form” complaint processing procedures to facilitate swift action on urgent complaints and expeditious resolution of allegations that are narrowly focused and require limited investigation. The short-form process makes it easier to open and close complaints, allowing speedier resolution. Cases that prove to require additional work are converted to standard investigations.
In order to allow complainants and the public to more fully understand the nature of CRCL investigations and findings, CRCL is providing complainants and their representatives more detailed information on CRCL’s authorities (and their limits) and more detailed descriptions of the results of investigations. In addition, we have created a more comprehensive website with information and statistics regarding complaints, and undertaken more substantive and frequent communication between CRCL and the NGO community on issues pertinent to complaints. We are clarifying public information on the complaint system by creating and posting a flow chart of the basic complaint process, a description of all of DHS’s various complaint processes and their scope, as well as this document. Our congressional reporting has become more comprehensive and describes complaints in more detail, including the responses from DHS components (ICE, CBP, USCIS, etc.).
Expanded Subject Matter Experts Program
CRCL has more than doubled its contracting with subject matter experts. CRCL utilizes experts to assist CRCL when working complaints with issues that require high-level expert review, and now has access to preeminent experts on issues such as provision of medical care, general conditions of detention, use of force, etc.
Comprehensive LEP Services
CRCL is now able to provide greatly enhanced translation services, including real-time translation services for callers to the complaint hotline, written translation services, and interpreter services for interviews and information gathering.
When a complaint investigation results in recommendations for changes to DHS policies or procedures, CRCL now requires that the affected DHS component or office either concur or “non-concur” with the recommendations, and asks for an action plan accompany all concurrences. Non-concurrences may lead to a Departmental resolution process. Due to these new measures, CRCL is now able to track all recommendations and their implementation.
Complaint Database System
A new complaint database system went live in October 2010; it provides many additional features to protect confidentiality, expedite complaint communications, and improve record-keeping. Its advanced database capabilities aid CRCL in tracking and searching for information, and its reporting capabilities enhance case tracking, supervision, and trend analysis.
Deaths in ICE Detention
Through an agreement reached with ICE in FY 2010, CRCL is notified of all deaths in ICE detention and has developed a process for reviewing and investigating the circumstances surrounding the death. CRCL utilizes contracted subject matter experts to conduct investigative file reviews and onsite investigations where appropriate.
Enhanced Privacy Protection
CRCL memoranda to DHS components now better protect personally identifiable information (such as names and alien registration numbers); CRCL memoranda making recommendations to the components, in which no identifying information is included, are now designed for broad sharing through the agency. Circulation of investigation memos, which do include identifying information, continues to be limited to those with a need to know such information.
CRCL forms and instructions now make clearer that complaints may be submitted confidentially, even anonymously. Although an investigation may be impeded due to a lack of sufficient information, allegations will be kept on file and reviewed periodically. CRCL’s complaint form also emphasizes that retaliation against the complainant is unlawful and that individuals who believe they have been retaliated against should report it to CRCL.
Improved Component Procedures
CRCL has improved procedures for coordination and timely investigation with DHS components and offices, including the Office of Inspector General. For example, more components now have assigned CRCL liaison officers, and CRCL now routinely receives complaints made to the Office of Inspector General but not chosen by that office for its investigation.
More Improvements Coming
Data collection/tracking: CRCL will soon begin leveraging technology to improve our use of information that, while insufficient to initiate an investigation when received, may be useful to CRCL’s mission. For example, where investigation of a complaint is not possible because of a lack of identifying information, the allegation will be stored and used to perform analysis and development of general topics which may be germane to broader investigation or policy improvement. In addition, investigators will search this data to further inform complaints on similar issues.
Increased Oversight through Component Referrals to CRCL: CRCL is working on agreements with DHS components under which they will refer potential complaints to CRCL that were not opened within the component’s office for processing, but which may contain matters related to civil rights and civil liberties. This will allow CRCL to increase its oversight into complaints being sent to DHS and to act on those that may have issues appropriate for CRCL action.
Enhanced Evidence Protection Measures: CRCL has begun to create an immediate component notification process in order to improve evidence preservation. This is particularly crucial in situations involving videotape, which is often destroyed after 30 days.