Border Agents Armed Themselves, Fearing Riots Over Squalid Detainee Conditions

An internal government review found appalling overcrowding at an El Paso holding facility in May.

An internal U.S. government review warned in May that conditions at a migrant holding facility in El Paso, Texas, were bad enough that agents there felt compelled to arm themselves in anticipation of a possible riot.

NBC News obtained a copy of the report, authored by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General regarding the findings of a site visit at the El Paso facility on May 7.

The report sharply undercuts the Trump administration’s dismissal of reports of poor conditions on the border ― which some experts have recognized as concentration camps ― as “unsubstantiated.”

While a DHS official told NBC that Border Patrol agents typically secure their firearms in a lockbox when they enter a holding area, those at the El Paso facility were no longer doing so because they feared the conditions “could result in volatile situations (riots, etc.).”

When inspectors visited on May 7, a total of 756 immigrants were being detained at the facility, half of them in a parking lot outside. The facility has an official maximum capacity of 123.

“In the outside parking lot,” the report found “detainees were being held for processing in areas that did not have heating, cooling, shade, or flooring.”

In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Central American migrants wait for food in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Prote
In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Central American migrants wait for food in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process migrant families and unaccompanied minors in El Paso, Texas.

Conditions were arguably far worse inside.

“Dangerous overcrowding” inside meant Border Patrol agents were unable to even get accurate headcounts, with stated population tallies varying wildly from the actual number.

One cell, for instance, with a stated maximum capacity of 12, was said to be housing 57 adult women. An OIG count found 76 adult women were actually in the cell.

An adjacent cell intended for just 8 people was found to have 41 adult women crammed inside “in standing room only conditions” with no room to lay down and sleep, with one toilet and one sink. Agents told the OIG some of the migrants had been in standing room-only conditions, many wearing soiled clothing, “for days or weeks.”

The facility has just four temporary showers, leading to a smell inspectors described as “what might have been unwashed bodies/body odor, urine, untreated diarrhea, and/or soiled clothing/diapers.”

Last week, a group of attorneys who interviewed more than 60 minors at U.S. Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley sector spoke out in alarm about the horrific conditions they’d encountered.

Five children have died in Border Patrol custody since December.