US Agency Calls Border Detention 'Dangerously Overcrowded'


03 July, 2019

A new report by the Homeland Security Inspector General describes bad conditions and overcrowding at centers along the border in Texas.

The centers are where U.S. border officials detain migrants who try to enter the country illegally. One supervisor of a center said he is concerned about the safety of his workers. He called the situation a "ticking time bomb."

Figure 4. Standing room only for adult males observed by OIG on June 10, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, TX, Station.
Figure 4. Standing room only for adult males observed by OIG on June 10, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, TX, Station.

Report Documents Overcrowding

The report was released Tuesday. The document includes pictures of people behind chain-link fencing and other barriers. Some are lying on bare floors with nothing to do. Some men are in a room where they can only stand because the room is small and there are too many people.

In other rooms, men and women wear surgical masks and put their hands on the window. One photo shows 88 men crowded inside a small room meant to fit only 41 people. One man holds a cardboard sign which says "help" against a window in another picture.

The report says some migrants put socks and blankets in the toilets so they can get out of the cells while the toilets are repaired.

The inspector general's report says it is difficult for the migrants to keep clean because there are few showers. Many migrants become sick and have stomach problems from the poor diet that they are given.

Government rules state that migrants should "generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities." The CBP is the Customs and Border Protection agency. Many of the migrants said they were in the centers for more than 10 days.

Immediate Steps Needed

The inspector general called on the DHS to "take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley."

A group of Democratic Party lawmakers who visited one facility in Texas Monday called conditions there "horrifying."

Critics blame U.S. President Donald Trump. They say the Trump administration has caused the overcrowding by refusing to release migrants entering the country, some of whom are seeking asylum.

The DHS report says, in the past year, there has been a 124 percent increase in the number of migrants detained at the border in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Information for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that the number of people detained at the southwest border has sharply increased since January. In May, 144,278 were detained.

Several children have died while being held by U.S. agencies in the past year.

I'm Jill Robbins.

VOA News reported on this story. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

migrant –n. a person who travels from one area to another in search of work

asylum – n. protection given by a government to someone who has left another country in order to escape being harmed

surgical masks –n. cloth face coverings meant to prevent the spreading of germs in hospitals and other places

toilets –n. a large bowl with pipes attached used to remove bodily waste

cell –n. a small room in a prison or detention center

facility –n. a building or piece of equipment used for a certain purpose

alleviatev. to reduce the pain or trouble of (something)

prolongedadv. lasting longer than usual or expected

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