Homeland Security Inspector General Would Like A Word About The Baby (And Grownup) Jails
When lawyers decried the unsanitary, inhuman conditions for children held in (or outside!) Border Patrol detention centers in Texas, an unidentified official with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told the media he didn't believe the allegations, because CBP does a very good job. Last Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told reporters at a presser that reports of lousy conditions at Border Patrol stations were "unsubstantiated," and that migrant children in CBP custody had access to showers as soon as possible.
To nobody's great surprise, then, Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General yesterday released a scathing report -- a "management alert" -- detailing dangerous overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities int he Rio Grande Valley, noting that migrants were being held in standing-room-only conditions for weeks at a time. And yes, the report confirms "children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities we visited had no access to showers." It's right there on page 6 of the 16-page document. Hi-ho.
The report, based on site visits in June, is a follow-up to another OIG report in May that detailed even more severe overcrowding at CBP facilities. This one backed up the numbers and descriptions with photos, and noted that the crowded buildings and temporary tents aren't just a danger to the migrants being held, but also to the staff working there. It's a rare change from the administration's near-total blackout on images from inside the facilities -- a policy intended to protect the detainees' "privacy," we're always told, but with the convenient side effect of keeping the horror show from public view. Well now it's pretty goddamned public.
One facility manager called the crowded conditions "a ticking time bomb," and the report notes the very presence of the OIG team led the desperate detainees at one facility to start acting up -- in hopes of maybe getting some help.
The detainee in the center of the picture is holding a scrap of cardboard saying "Help. 40 Day Here." Under DHS rules, adult detainees should only be held by Border Patrol for 72 hours before being transferred to ICE; children are supposed to be placed with Health and Human Services so they can be placed with a sponsor. But both of those agencies claim they have no room, no room (thanks to the Trump administration's decision to jail all asylum seekers forever), so the detainees are stuck in CBP facilities for weeks at a time. When the OIG investigators visited the five Texas detention centers in June, they held roughly 8,000 people; a good 3,500 had been held beyond that 72-hour limit.
The conditions for kids were similarly awful. Minors -- or in the charming parlance of DHS, "unaccompanied alien children" (UACs) which sounds more like Invader Zim -- are covered not only by the DHS rule, but also by federal law under the Flores agreement, which also mandates no more than 72 hours in CBP custody. Most kids were ready to go to HHS, but were stuck in the border jails.
In addition to the overcrowding we observed, Border Patrol's custody data indicates that 826 (31 percent) of the 2,669 children at these facilities had been held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted [...] For example, of the 1,031 UACs held at the Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, TX, 806 had already been processed and were awaiting transfer to HHS custody. Of the 806 that were already processed, 165 had been in custody longer than a week.
Additionally, there were more than 50 UACs younger than 7 years old, and some of them had been in custody over two weeks while awaiting transfer.
Your tax dollars at work! As for the excellent treatment the kids received, the report explains, the border stations weren't following DHS's "Transport, Escort, Detention and Search" (TEDS) standards:
[Children] at three of the five Border Patrol facilities we visited had no access to showers, despite the TEDS standards requiring that "reasonable efforts" be made to provide showers to children approaching 48 hours in detention. At these facilities, children had limited access to a change of clothes; Border Patrol had few spare clothes and no laundry facilities. While all facilities had infant formula, diapers, baby wipes, and juice and snacks for children, we observed that two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals — as is required by the TEDS standards — until the week we arrived. Instead, the children were fed sandwiches and snacks for their meals.
We should probably note that the border station in Clint, Texas, where lawyers spoke to little kids who had been told to care for toddlers, wasn't among the five visited by the OIG team. But the details above certainly lend credibility to the lawyers' interviews with children who said they'd gone weeks without showers or changes of clothes, and that they'd been fed uncooked, repetitive, starch-heavy meals.
Adults weren't exactly whooping it up in Trump hotel luxury, either. In addition to the overcrowding, the report notes,
although TEDS standards require CBP to make a reasonable effort to provide a shower for adults after 72 hours, most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month. At some facilities, Border Patrol was giving detainees wet-wipes to maintain personal hygiene. Most single adult detainees were wearing the clothes they arrived in days, weeks, and even up to a month prior. Further, [...] many single adults had been receiving only bologna sandwiches. Some detainees on this diet were becoming constipated and required medical attention. [emphasis added -- Dok Z]
On the other hand, they BROKE THE LAW, so actually this is all very good, and maybe the conditions need to be even harsher so no one will ever try to cross the border again. That's essentially part of the official DHS response to the OIG report, appended in a letter at the end. In addition to noting that CBP has added two big tents with a capacity of 500 people each, the department says it's doing the best it can, but can only move people to ICE custody when ICE has room in its prisons. But the letter also says Congress has to end asylum and deport everyone, because otherwise the alien hordes will invade and overwhelm America:
Throughout this crisis, CBP continues to do everything it can to promptly transfer, transport, process, release, or repatriate those in our custody. However, without Congressional action to address legal and judicial loopholes, families and UACs will continue to be incentivized by the smuggling organizations to make the dangerous journey and be encouraged by the likelihood that families will not be detained during their immigration proceedings. As more migrants become emboldened by these loopholes, CBP expects this influx to not only continue, but also to escalate.
Remember, when the Trump administration says "loopholes," it's objecting to any measure that makes asylum or due process available. The cruelty is literally the policy, and any reduction in cruelty is an "incentive" for these terrible people to have hope. Let's all salute America, huh?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.