WASHINGTON —Inspectors from the Department of Homeland Security said the department is violating regulations for the care and handling of undocumented migrants and must take steps now to snip “a ticking time bomb.”
The report, released late Tuesday, said the squalid conditions include children with no access to showers or warm meals, and single adults held in overcrowded and sometimes standing room only area for weeks and in some cases more than a month, a violation of regulations.
“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,” the DHS Office of Inspector General said in the 16-page report. “At the time of our visits, Border Patrol management told us there had already been security incidents among adult males at multiple facilities.”
The report, called a “Management Alert,” was triggered by an earlier visit to the El Paso, Texas, region by the Inspector General that revealed overcrowded conditions. Those conditions had been denied by DHS.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee plans a July 12 hearing on the treatment of migrant children and conditions at the facilities. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan have been asked to testify.
That May inspection set in motion follow-up visits by the Inspector General staff to five Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border in June, which produced the new report.
In the recent visit, inspectors said they “observed serious overcrowding and prolonged detention of unaccompanied alien children, families, and single adults that require immediate attention.”
The report also said any migrants, fed only bologna sandwiches, were becoming constipated and required medical attention.
“Border Patrol was holding about 8,000 detainees in custody at the time of our visit, with 3,400 held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted under the TEDS standards. Of those 3,400 detainees, Border Patrol held 1,500 for more than 10 days,” the report said.
TEDS refers to Transport, Escort, Detention and Search standards, which govern CBP’s interaction with detained individuals,
The findings are similar to those publicized by some members of Congress and independent organizations but dismissed by the White House and others.
“We remain concerned that DHS is not taking sufficient measures to address prolonged detention in CBP custody among single adults,” the report said.
“Although an additional 500 beds in the Rio Grande Valley may reduce overcrowding among single adults, DHS must transfer single adults to ICE custody as quickly as possible; within DHS, long-term detention is ICE’s responsibility.”
DHS blamed the conditions on “an acute and worsening crisis” at the detention centers because of the high rate of migrant flow. It said two additional tent shelters have been added to handle migrants, with more planned for July.
“According to Border Patrol statistics, the Rio Grande Valley sector has the highest volume on the southwest border, with nearly a quarter million apprehensions in the first eight months of FY 2019. This total represents a 124 percent increase compared to the same period in FY 2018, with the greatest increase in family units,” the report said.
Inspectors said some detainees would clog toilets or take other measures to prompt repairs and then use the repair periods to attempt escape. They said inspection at one facility was cut short because detainees became energized thinking the inspectors could free them.
“We ended our site visit at one Border Patrol facility early because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation,” the report said. “Specifically, 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).”