On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released a report titled “DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley.” It’s a strong header for a government document, and the pictures within do even more to underscore the horrendous conditions for many of the migrants detained at Border Patrol facilities.
DHS auditors visited five facilities and two ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley to document overcrowding. One facility’s senior manager called the conditions “a ticking time bomb.” As the picture below was being taken, migrants “banged on the cell windows, shouted, [and] pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody (e.g., beards).” According to NBC correspondent Gadi Schwartz, one migrant’s sign appears to say “HELP 40 day here.” The auditors’ visit to Fort Brown Border Patrol camp ended “early, because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation.” The cell in the picture was designed to hold 41 women, but was being used to detain 82 men.
In a similar photo of overcrowding, 51 women were in the cell below meant to hold 40 children.
The overcrowding of families has emerged as a profound concern: In the facilities visited by the inspector general’s office, over 2,500 unaccompanied children had been held for more than three days, which violates the Flores Settlement Agreement that set the guidelines for care of minors in U.S. custody. Around 50 children under the age of 7 had been in custody for over two weeks. At some Rio Grande Valley facilities, “Children had limited access to a change of clothes [and] Border Patrol had few spare clothes and no laundry facilities … We observed that two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals — as is required by the [Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search] standards — until the week we arrived.”
According to the report, “At one facility, some single adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week.”