On Friday, the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a management alert requiring “immediate attention and action…to alleviate dangerous overcrowding at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center (PDT).” In unannounced visits to the PDT, the IG observed that DHS was housing 6 to 7 times the maximum capacity of detainees, including:
- some detainees “in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks…;”
- “detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets…;” and,
- “staff discarding…detainee property, such as backpacks, suitcases, and handbags, in the nearby dumpster.”
The IG noted that, “[a]lthough CBP headquarters management has been aware of the situation at PDT for months and detailed staff to assist with custody management, DHS has not identified a process to alleviate issues with overcrowding at PDT.” Moreover, while DHS agreed to take corrective action, the IG was unimpressed with DHS’ timeline for resolution – one and a half years – and said it would continue inspections until the issue was resolved more swiftly since, as the IG stated, detainees “cannot continue to be held in standing-room-only conditions.”
When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan about the IG’s alert and whether Trump’s border wall money – which the President made quickly available using National Emergency Act authorities – should be used to address overcrowding, McAleenan deflected the question and blamed Congress.
On top of this current cruelty, last night NBC News reminded us of the inhumanity of last summer’s Trump family separation policy. Emails obtained by NBC News show that 37 “tender-age” children between the ages of 5 and 12 were left in vans through day and night for anywhere between 11 and 39 hours. It was supposed to be a quick 30-minute ride to ICE to reunite with parents they were wrongfully separated from by DHS. Officials contracted to transport the children were left scrambling to care for hungry and tired children sleeping in vans while ICE staff clocked out and went home without resolving the situation.
Furthermore, The Young Turks (TYT) yesterday uncovered internal ICE memos showing that multiple deaths of ICE detainees were preventable, including a memo to the Acting Deputy Director of ICE who once likened ICE family detention centers to summer camp. One ICE official stated, “It’s a systemic problem.”
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said: “Months ago, the President shut down the government for an unprecedented 35 days in a temper tantrum to get his wall funded. When Congress ultimately refused, he declared a national emergency with no basis in fact and law in an effort to redirect money for an ineffective border wall. All the while, a real refugee and humanitarian crisis continued to brew at the border, but the Trump administration did not develop a plan of action, let alone consider using some of that ‘emergency’ wall money for the real crisis of severe overcrowding noted by the IG.
“Unfortunately, the IG’s report and the NBC News revelation of the botched family reunifications last summer come as no surprise. This administration is not interested in solving problems or resolving issues; rather they are interested in exploiting the border humanitarian crisis to get more money out of Congress and generate more talking points for the campaign trail. Let’s not forget that this administration inherited the lowest number of southwest border apprehensions in 46 years. We have had two years of failed, cruel, enforcement-only policies – family separation, multiple regulations, threats to close the border, the wall, military at the border, tear gas, Remain in Mexico, ending foreign aid to Central America, government shutdown, and the list goes on and on and now includes raising tariffs on Mexican goods. The result: increasing numbers of people coming to our borders in search of safety, agonizing stories of inhumanity, and deaths of children and adults in CBP detention that we haven’t seen in more than a decade.
“It’s time for a course correction. The problem with the President’s border strategy is not a lack of funding, it is that he and his administration fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. Border law enforcement and political gimmicks aren’t working and we need a regional refugee strategy. We need effective and humane solutions – an infusion of resources for efficient asylum application processing, greater use of alternatives to detention and a plan to address root causes with an in-region refugee resettlement program.”
David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “When Donald Trump took the oath of office border crossings were at a record low. What we had then was a steadily increasing but clearly manageable flow of families seeking asylum. Instead of continuing and growing rational and effective programs started under the Obama administration, the Trump administration has been busy ending such programs, replacing them with cruel, failed policies that only exacerbate the issue and create chaos at the border. Sadly, the ghastly detention conditions detailed in the IG report are a predictable result of the cruel, failed and inhumane immigration schemes of the Trump administration.”