DHS watchdog finds 'dangerous overcrowding' at Texas Border Patrol facility

DHS watchdog finds 'dangerous overcrowding' at Texas Border Patrol facility
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A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog has found "dangerous overcrowding" and "standing room only conditions" at a Border Patrol processing facility in El Paso, Texas. 

The El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which has a maximum capacity of 125 migrants, held "approximately 750 and 900 detainees, respectively" on May 7 and 8 according to an inspector general report that cited Border Patrol custody logs. 

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The DHS inspector general said that one cell with a maximum capacity of 12 people held 76, another with a maximum capacity of eight held 41 and a third cell with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155. 

The report included several photos depicting the alleged overcrowding and details multiple problems with hygiene and calls the need "corrective action" critical.

"[Customs and Border Protection] was struggling to maintain hygienic conditions in the holding cells. With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks," the report said, as first reported by CNN on Friday. "We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets."

"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," it added. 

The report also said that Border Patrol managers warned of "immediate risk to the health and safety" of both detainees and DHS agents and officers, and that employees had "high incidence of illness." 

The report recommended that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “take immediate steps to alleviate the overcrowding at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center.”

CBP concurred with the recommendation, noting that it has taken steps including constructing a “500 holding capacity soft-sided structure” and future construction of a facility to hold 800 people which is expected to be in operation starting July 3.

It is also working on constructing another facility to hold 1,800 that will be ready “within 18 months.”

“CBP will continue to review the number of migrants in custody at [U.S. Border Patrol] stations within El Paso Sector to determine available space and transfer subjects accordingly,” the report said. 

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonTop Democrat demands answers from CBP on security of biometric data Hillicon Valley: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security 8chan owner defends platform in testimony before Congress MORE (D-Miss.) said in a statement Friday that the photos in the report "make it clear that DHS has completely and utterly failed at handling the humanitarian crisis at the border."

"The findings serve as further evidence that the Trump Administration is not just neglecting to address the crisis – they are, in fact, exacerbating it," he said. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection management has known for months to expect a higher-than-usual number of migrant families coming to our border to seek asylum – yet has done nothing to prioritize adequate, safe, and humane temporary holding facilities for those migrants". 

Shaw Drake, the policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union Border Right Center, said during a Friday press call that the report and its recommendations “simply do not go far enough.”

“CBP has proven time and time again that they are unable or unwilling to provide humane conditions to those in their custody and that requires immediate action,” he said. 

—Updated at 2:45 p.m.