The inspector general's report
, which focused on the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are no longer in detention, said that without fixing the issues, DHS will not be able to support the Trump administration's aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants.
"These management deficiencies and unresolved obstacles make it difficult for (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to deport aliens expeditiously," the report said. "ICE is almost certainly not deporting all the aliens who could be deported and will likely not be able to keep up with growing numbers of deportable aliens."
While the research for the report was conducted during the Obama administration, ICE under the Trump administration acknowledged the need for improvement and told the IG it was working toward implementing recommendations to improve the department.
Trump issued executive orders in his first week designed to vastly increase the detention and deportation capacity of DHS as part of his effort to aggressively enforce immigration laws. His administration is also moving to detain virtually all undocumented immigrants it encounters in advance of court proceedings.
But the report raises warning flags for the actual implementation of those policies, including making them usable by officers in the field.
Asked about the report Thursday at a news conference at the border, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said things would change now that the government was enforcing immigration laws, implying that the Obama administration did an inadequate job.
"Yes, the system is overwhelmed because now we're doing exactly that, enforcing the law," Kelly said. "They don't mind doing their job. Working hard, they don't mind (it) now that they're doing their job enforcing the law."
The report identified a few areas of deficiency. One problem, the IG said, was that deportation officers have "overwhelming" case loads and the work is not distributed evenly across the country.
Additionally, the IG dinged ICE for not having "well-defined policies and procedures," saying ICE needs to better train its staff and communicate its deportation priorities. Those issues are compounded by the fact that the agency has failed to "balance" and "prepare" its workforce, the report said.
For example, deportation officers in Washington who handle non-detained cases were responsible for an average of 10,000 cases each, whereas their counterparts managing detained immigrants were only responsible for 100 cases each, according to the report. In Atlanta, the ratio was 5,337 to 65, and in Seattle, Washington, and St. Paul, Minnesota, it was roughly 1,800 to 100.
Assignments can also change suddenly, ICE said, with deportation officers being asked to pick up colleagues' responsibilities, take temporary assignments at the border and sometimes take over duties for transporting undocumented immigrants to and from court or out of the country.
That overload made it easy for undocumented immigrants to slip through the cracks, including dangerous ones, the IG said, with officers not always noticing when individuals disappeared or missed check-ins.
ICE was supervising 2.2 million undocumented immigrants who were out of detention in August 2016, the report said, including more than 368,000 convicted criminals. In fiscal year 2015, 235,413 immigrants were deported, of whom 139,368 were convicted criminals.
The IG also had harsh words for the way policies of the agency were established. Relying on memoranda, directives and broadcast messages to offices falls short, it said, because those don't actually have the effect of official policies until they are reviewed by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations office. And that process is lengthy, the IG found based on interviews, meaning few of the policies on prioritization are able to become operational quickly.
"Guidance is often communicated to field office personnel orally or by email rather than through formal, documented policies and procedures," the report said. "These deficiencies hinder proper supervision of non-detained aliens, including those who may be fugitives or who commit crimes. Field office staff confirmed that ICE's available policies and procedures did not help them properly manage their non-detained cases."
ICE is operating under a 2003 guidebook, the Detention and Removal Operations Policy and Procedure Manual, which has not been updated since 2008, the report said.
The IG made five recommendations, all of which ICE agreed to and said it hoped to implement by 2018.
ICE said it would work to review policies and update them and to reassess staffing by January 2018. Part of that process is already underway as an element of Trump's executive orders, which called for hiring 10,000 more immigration officers, ICE said.
By March 2018, ICE said it would have a better training system both for new employees and keeping current employees up-to-date. It also said it would continue to work with the State Department on resolving problems with countries who refuse to take back their nationals.
The IG said it accepted all of ICE's proposals, but would continue to verify they are appropriately implemented before considering the matter closed.