Broken Border

Homeland Security report: Tensions rising in overcrowded migrant detention facilities

The Homeland Security Department's Office of Inspector General visited five Border Patrol facilities in South Texas last month and found "dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults."

A June 11 image from the Office of Inspector General report shows overcrowding at the Border Patrol's Weslaco station.
A June 11 image from the Office of Inspector General report shows overcrowding at the Border Patrol's Weslaco station.  Image via Office of the Inspector General
Broken Border

A surge of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has pushed the country's immigration system to the breaking point as new policies aimed at both undocumented immigrants and legal asylum seekers have contributed to a humanitarian crisis. The Texas Tribune is maintaining its in-depth reporting on this national issue.

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The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General released a report Tuesday detailing severe overcrowding and escalating tensions between detainees and Border Patrol agents at five facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.

The report said children were denied showers, clean clothing and hot meals. Several adults hadn’t had a shower for as long as a month.

While visiting the Fort Brown Station in Brownsville, inspectors said, detainees were shouting and banging on cell windows, pressing notes to the glass and pointing to their beards as evidence of their time in detention. The report also said that to get out of overcrowded holding tanks — some of them so packed that migrants all have to stand — some migrants have used mylar blankets and socks to clog the toilets so they will be removed from their cells while the toilets are fixed.

 Image via Office of the Inspector General

A photo the inspectors took at the Weslaco Border Patrol station shows a crowded room with families covered in mylar blankets, sleeping side by side on a concrete floor. In another photo from the Fort Brown Station, 51 women are crowded in a cell designed for 40 — several women wore dust masks and had their hands pressed tightly against the glass.

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The inspectors said they visited the five facilities during the week of June 10 and found:

  • Out of 8,000 detainees in custody at the time of the inspections in early June, 3,400 were held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted under Customs and Border Protection standards.

  • Of those 3,400 detainees, 1,500 were held for more than 10 days.

  • 31% of the 2,669 children at the five facilities were held longer than the 72 hours permitted by the Flores Agreement, which regulates conditions for migrant children in detention.

  • Since June 7, the number of unaccompanied minors in Border Patrol custody has been reduced from nearly 2,800 to less than 1,000.

The report comes a day after ProPublica discovered a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents, in which members discussed throwing burritos at Latina lawmakers and joked about the death of a 16-year-old migrant who died in Border Patrol custody.

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Of the 1,031 children at the at the Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, one of the stations inspectors visited, 806 had already been processed and were awaiting transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for housing unaccompanied minors. Of the 806 children, 165 had been in Border Patrol custody for more than a week.

 Image via Office of the Inspector General

Last week, the U.S. House passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill that included billions of dollars for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates under Health and Human Services, as well as hundreds of millions for Customs and Border Protection and the Pentagon.

"We recognize the extraordinary challenges CBP faces, and welcome the information that [Homeland Security] has been able to reduce the number of [unaccompanied children] in custody," inspectors wrote in the report. "However, we remain concerned that [Homeland Security] is not taking sufficient measures to address prolonged detention in CBP custody among single adults."