ICE this week automatically installed a suicide prevention app on employees’ government-issued smartphones, staffers told The Washington Times, calling it a grim sign of declining morale at the immigration agency.
The app asks a series of questions designed to spot mental health issues and stimulate awareness.
In an email to employees, the acting deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement urged employees to report any coworkers they believe are willing to commit suicide.
“I think [it] is very indicative of agency morale,” said an ICE employee who found the app installed on his phone this week.
Other ICE employees said morale was as low as they remembered and they expected things to get worse in the coming months.
An employee said the agency appeared to be adrift, buffeted by political winds as the White House and Department of Homeland Security ordered officers to curtail law enforcement.
“There’s just a growing frustration of being a political yo-yo,” the employee said. “[The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] has a set of laws to enforce. They are moving forward and doing good things. Even with [the Drug Enforcement Administration] and almost all other agencies. This is not our case.
ICE employees said they received an email alerting them to the app’s arrival.
It’s called the DHS-Columbia Protocol app and can be downloaded by anyone on Apple and Android devices. It is a customized version of the Columbia Protocol, a suicide prevention tool developed by the Columbia Lighthouse Project.
The app asks users if they’ve thought about suicide in the last month or if they “wish you were dead or wish they could go to sleep and not wake up”.
Those who answer yes are asked if they have made any efforts or plans to do so.
The app then displays a suicide risk assessment with ‘low’, ‘moderate’, ‘high’ or ‘imminent’ ratings and suggestions for further steps to seek help.
The questions are designed to be asked of yourself or another person.
“This app is designed to facilitate discussion and identify a person who may be at risk of suicide,” ICE acting deputy director Patrick J. Lechleitner said in the email to employees announcing the facility. forced.
He said using the app is voluntary and no data would be collected.
An employee who tried to remove the app discovered that it automatically reinstalled itself.
The Washington Times has contacted ICE for comment.
ICE employees, particularly the agency’s eviction officers, described their frustration with the agency and said they felt beleaguered by criticism of their mission.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have repeatedly tried to cut funding for the agency. Vice President Kamala Harris, as a senator in 2018, compared ICE immigration officers to the Ku Klux Klan.
President Biden and his top aides have sought to limit the agency’s ability to operate with rules that limit where and how officers can enforce the law, and to whom they can enforce it. One officer told The Times he felt like he was being paid for not doing his job.
ICE officers say the situation is about to get worse. The agency informed them that they could be removed from their usual duties and shipped to the border to help free illegal immigrants who are expected to cross the US-Mexico border when the administration ends the border closure policy in pandemic, known as Title 42.
Low morale is endemic to Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report last year that Homeland Security consistently had the lowest level of engagement of any major agency – a key indicator of overall performance and satisfaction.
Among the agencies in the department, ICE ranks near the bottom but is not the worst.
The Times contacted Homeland Security, which did not respond until after this story was published.
In its statement, the department did not say whether other Homeland Security agencies forcibly installed it on their employees’ phones in the same way as ICE. But he said the app is available to all employees – indeed anyone with an Android or Apple phone can download it.
“This evidence-based suicide prevention tool is one of many resources available to DHS employees. Other resources include those related to COVID-19 information, nutrition, other mental health services and fitness,” Homeland Security said.
The department maintains a webpage promoting suicide prevention awareness for employees and their families. This page also promotes the Columbia Protocol.
Suicide among federal employees is a growing government-wide problem, according to a 2020 article for FedSmith.com. The article says the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 124 federal employee job-related deaths in 2018, and 28% of them were suicides.
Quartz, another publication, said Customs and Border Protection, ICE’s sister immigration enforcement agency, reported that 115 employees died by suicide from 2007 to 2018. That brings CBP’s suicide rate to 28 percent higher than any other law enforcement agency, Quartz reported.
The publication said the agency “has fostered a culture where seeking help is not only discouraged but punished.”