The situation in some immigrant holding facilities on the U.S. southwest border is a “ticking time bomb,” according to a report issued by a Department of Homeland Security office.
Immigrants continue to cross the border from Mexico, creating “dangerous overcrowding” in Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, says the report, issued by DHS’s Office of Inspector General.
The inspector general said the prolonged detention of migrants without proper food, hygiene or laundry facilities requires “immediate attention and action.” The report described conditions in facilities along the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest sector in the country for illegal border crossings.
“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,” the report said.
An unnamed senior manager is quoted in the report saying the situation a “ticking time bomb.”
Inspectors found that while federal rules allow immigrant children to be held no more than 72 hours, some kids were held for more than two weeks. And some adults were kept in standing-room-only cells for more than a week.
Border Patrol managers are quoted describing “security incidents,” such as detainees clogging toilets with Mylar blankets and socks in order to be released from their cells during maintenance.
“We ended our site visit at one Border Patrol facility early because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation,” the inspectors wrote. “Specifically, when detainees observed us, they banged on the cell windows, shouted, pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody (e.g., beards).”
DHS responded to the report saying there has been an overwhelming surge of immigrants this spring. In May, the department said an average of more than 4,600 people a day crossed illegally or arrived at ports of entry without the proper documents, compared to less than 700 a day in the same period two years ago, according to National Public Radio:
DHS says Customs and Border Protection facilities are at “peak capacity” and that the agency is adding detention capacity at three tent facilities in order to improve the conditions for migrants. CBP also says it “continues to take steps to address the health and safety of those in custody,” including by expanding medical services.