Conditions at Detention Centers Have Reached a Tipping PointA new report reveals things have gotten so bad that agents have predicted riots, yet the Department of Homeland Security refuses to act.
“I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger,” a 12-year-old told attorneys of his experience at an immigration detention center in Texas. A 16-year-old described her sleeping arrangements: “We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold.” Another teenager said there was no soap, toothpaste or toothbrushes. These were just a few of the stories that immigration attorneys collected and BuzzFeed reported on in June.
The lawyers, BuzzFeed reporter Claudia Koerner wrote on June 27, “are asking a judge to immediately require inspections of Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley as part of an effort to improve the conditions that immigrant children face.” According to a new report from NBC News however, both the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection, the agency that operates these centers, already knew.
In fact, as NBC News’s Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff report, “conditions at an El Paso, Texas, border station were so bad that border agents were arming themselves against possible riots.”
Those conditions were described in a report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, the department’s internal watchdog. Inspectors toured the facility, the name of which was redacted, on May 7. The report was transmitted to DHS on May 16 and released publicly by NBC News on July 1.
The Trump administration blames the conditions at shelters on facility backlogs resulting from the numbers of migrants coming to America. That will be of little help to many detainees; as NBC reports, “some of the conditions, such as a lack of showers or clean clothes for detainees, are not dependent on more funding for detention space elsewhere.”
According to NBC, “Border agents remained armed in holding areas because they were worried about the potential for unrest,” and “Agents typically put their weapons in a lockbox when they enter holding areas, a DHS official said.” In addition to descriptions of overcrowding and a lack of hygiene and proper medical care, the report includes interviews with Customs and Border Protection agents located at the Paso Del Norte border station in El Paso.
“Morale was in sharp decline,” NBC reports of the agents. They “had concerns that the conditions would lead to riots or hunger strikes by migrants. Some agents were looking to retire early or move to another agency.” The report also states that agents themselves “are seeing more drinking, domestic violence and financial problems.”
The report’s release comes on the heels of vehement denials of migrant abuse from the Trump administration. At a Friday press conference, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan dismissed several news stories of appalling conditions at multiple facilities, calling them “unsubstantiated.”
On Monday, House members visited a few detention centers in Texas. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted after the first stop, “I see why CBP officers were being so physically &sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress.”
DHS did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment. Read the full DHS report here.Wait, before you go…
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