During an unannounced assessment of Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, Texas, a Department of Homeland Security watchdog found that detained migrants were kept in dirty and extremely crowded conditions, forcing some people to stand on toilets to get some breathing room.
In its report, made public Friday, the Office of Inspector General described conditions at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center as “dangerous” and required immediate attention.
According to investigators, the detention center has a capacity of 125 people, yet 756 detainees were listed on its custody log on May 7. When investigators returned the following day for another unannounced inspection, the total grew to 900.
Detainees were being held in cells crowded way beyond legal capacity.
In one cell, 76 detainees were forced into a room that had a maximum capacity of 12. One 12-person cell held 76 people. Another cell with a maximum capacity of eight held 41 people during the inspectors’ visit, and a third cell intended for 35 people contained 155 detainees.
The report also noted that the limited space is preventing detainees who have infectious diseases, including chicken pox, scabies and influenza, from being quarantined from the general population.
The crowding has forced some detainees to stand on top of the toilets in the cells to “make room and gain breathing space,” the report revealed. This has limited access that other detainees have to the toilets, thus worsening conditions at the detention center.
“We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers,” the report says.
The report also revealed that U.S. Customs and Border Protection struggles to maintain hygienic conditions in holding cells, adding that detainees have limited access to showers and clean clothing.
As a result, some detainees had been wearing the same soiled clothing for days or weeks at the time of the investigators’ visit.
Border Patrol agents told the inspectors that some of the detainees had been forced in standing-room-only conditions “for days or weeks.” A majority of the detainees have been in custody for longer than the maximum 72-hour time limit required by the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search that CBP is required to follow.
The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union demanded accountability after reading the inspector general’s report. The group filed a complaint to the inspector general on Thursday, claiming that it observed overcrowding and saw detainees sleeping outside in low temperatures in El Paso.
“DHS must no longer ignore the egregious human rights abuses that are occurring on its watch,” the group said Friday.
“DHS needs to invest in proven alternatives to detention. We cannot stand for this inhumane treatment of those seeking refuge in our country,” they added.
While crowding continues to worsen, Border Patrol agents continue to apprehend a growing number of migrants who illegally cross the border.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Border Patrol agents had encountered the largest group yet to illegally cross the border, with over 1,036 migrants.
The Trump administration is also proposing ways to make it more difficult for unaccompanied children to apply for asylum in the U.S., BuzzFeed news reported Friday.
The Inspector General’s Office called on CBP to take immediate steps to alleviate crowding in its facilities and urged Homeland Security to come up with a coordinated approach to manage long-term detention.
Homeland Security was given until Nov. 30, 2020, to correct these conditions.
In a Thursday letter to Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Acting Inspector General John V. Kelly said that the detainees “cannot continue” to be held under these conditions.
“Because DHS’s corrective action is critical to the immediate health and safety needs of detainees, who cannot continue to be held in standing-room-only conditions for weeks until additional tents are constructed, we consider the recommendation open and unresolved,” Kelly said.