The inspector general for the US Department of Homeland Security warned on Tuesday about “dangerous overcrowding” in migrant detention facilities in Texas.
The report by the agency watchdog came a day after a group of Democratic lawmakers toured detention centers for undocumented immigrants in the state bordering Mexico and denounced “horrifying” conditions there.
“We encourage the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley,” acting DHS Inspector General Jennifer Costello said in a memorandum to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The report included images taken at several Texas sites, showing dozens of migrants including young children packed shoulder to shoulder into cage-like holding areas or cells.
The acting DHS inspector general said one senior manager at a detention facility described the situation as a “ticking time bomb” and raised security concerns for agency staff and detainees.
Costello said her office had toured five Border Patrol holding facilities in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley in early June and observed “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention of unaccompanied alien children, families, and single adults.”
“Specifically, Border Patrol was holding about 8,000 detainees in custody at the time of our visit, with 3,400 held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted,” she said. “Of those 3,400 detainees, Border Patrol held 1,500 for more than 10 days.”
“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,” she added.
Children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities had no access to showers and few spare clothes while two facilities had not provided hot meals, only sandwiches.
Most single adults had not had a shower in a month and were being given wet-wipes. Some detainees were suffering from constipation after a diet consisting only of bologna sandwiches.
According to Border Patrol figures, 223,263 people were detained in the Rio Grande Valley sector between October 2018 and May 2019, up 124 percent from the same period a year earlier.
US Democratic presidential hopefuls denounced the conditions depicted by the report.
“No human being deserves to be treated like this,” Senator Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter. “This is abuse, it’s dehumanization, and it’s not who we are as a country.”
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