The DHS Office of Inspector General, releasing photos never seen before of overcrowding in migrant detention facilities, told Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a final management alert released today to “take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley.”
The OIG originally issued a management alert in May about “dangerous overcrowding” witnessed by inspectors during unannounced visits to Customs and Border Protection holding facilities in the El Paso area. Inspectors returned the week of June 10 and “again observed serious overcrowding and prolonged detention in Border Patrol facilities requiring immediate attention.”
From October 2018 to this May, the Rio Grande Valley Sector reported a 124 percent increase in total apprehensions compared to the same period a year before, including a 269 percent increase in family apprehensions.
OIG said detention problems were witnessed with unaccompanied minors, family units and single migrants. Of the 8,000 detainees held at the time inspectors were there, 3,400 had been held there longer than the permitted 72 hours for initial processing and, of those, 1,500 had been held longer than 10 days. Most adults, even those held for a month, had not been allowed to shower, and some were being fed only bologna sandwiches. CBP is supposed to transfer detainees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Health and Human Services; both have been operating above capacity.
The subsequent management alert highlighted “additional concerns” about detention conditions and “addresses security incidents in these facilities that reflect an escalation of the security concerns raised in our prior alert.”
Children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities visited by the OIG “had no access to showers,” and two began giving children hot meals as required only starting the week inspectors arrived. “At one facility, some single adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells,” the alert added.
“We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained. At the time of our visits, Border Patrol management told us there had already been security incidents among adult males at multiple facilities. These included detainees clogging toilets with Mylar blankets and socks in order to be released from their cells during maintenance,” OIG continued. “At one facility, detainees who had been moved from their cell during cleaning refused to return to their cell. Border Patrol brought in its special operations team to demonstrate it was prepared to use force if necessary. Additionally, detainees have attempted to escape while removed from their cells during maintenance.”
The OIG noted that “when detainees observed us, they banged on the cell windows, shouted, pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody (e.g., beards).”
In the agency response to the OIG’s finding, “DHS described the situation on the southern border as ‘an acute and worsening crisis,’ and cited measures DHS has taken to expand CBP’s capacity on the southern border. Specifically, DHS said it has added two tents capable of holding 500 people each in the Rio Grande Valley, and plans to add another to house single adults by July 29, 2019. DHS also cited examples of CBP’s emergency medical response across the southern border. DHS said the number of UACs in Border Patrol custody had been reduced from nearly 2,800 on June 7, 2019, to less than 1,000 on June 25, 2019.”
OIG replied that they recognized the “extraordinary challenges” but “we remain concerned that DHS is not taking sufficient measures to address prolonged detention in CBP custody among single adults.”