DHS watchdog finds 'dangerous overcrowding,' 'prolonged detention' at Rio Grande border facilities

DHS watchdog finds 'dangerous overcrowding,' 'prolonged detention' at Rio Grande border facilities
© Office of Inspector General

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) found "dangerous overcrowding" and "prolonged detention of children and adults" at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, the agency watchdog revealed Tuesday.

In a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, the office urged the agency to "take immediate steps to alleviate" the situation.

Photos included in the report show migrants at the facilities crowded behind fences and sleeping on the floor with aluminum blankets.

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Roughly 8,000 immigrants were being held at the five Border Patrol facilities visited by the watchdog, 3,400 of which had been held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted under Customs and Border Protection (CBP) standards.

When immigrants detained in the facilities saw investigators walking through, they banged on the cell windows and displayed notes to show the length of time they had been in custody, according to the report.

Of the 2,669 children at the facilities, 826 had been held longer than 72 hours.

Children at three of the five facilities had no access to showers and limited access to a change of clothes.

They also were not provide hot meals, another requirement under CBP standards.

Some adults at the facilities were held in standing room only conditions for a week.

"We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained," inspectors wrote in the report.

One senior facility manager interviewed called the situation “a ticking time bomb” because the conditions are agitating the immigrants.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-Miss.) slammed DHS over the conditions described in Tuesday’s report.

"This report shows that DHS is not making progress to address the humanitarian crisis at the border that the Administration has played a central part in creating," Thompson said in a statement. 

"DHS is still holding migrants — including families and children — in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. These facilities are clearly inhumane. Migrants should not be forced to live in standing room only facilities without access to showers for weeks because DHS cannot leverage its resources effectively. We can and must do better — we need immigration policies that are humane and reflect our core American values. DHS must utilize alternatives to mass indefinite detention programs," Thompson added.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Tuesday's report follows a similar one by the department OIG about conditions at El Paso, Texas, facilities from May, which was made public Monday.

That came after McAleenan said last week that reports of poor conditions for children at a border station in the El Paso sector were "unsubstantiated."

The revelations of the conditions immigrants are facing in detention have increased pressure on the Trump administration over the handling of the surge of immigrants entering through the U.S.-Mexico border.

Separate groups of Democratic lawmakers visited facilities in Texas and Florida this week to bring attention to the situation.

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