Overcrowding caused 'ticking time bomb' at Border Patrol stations: Watchdog

PHOTO: A Customs and Border patrol agent attends an event on immigration and border security at the U.S. Border Patrol Calexico Station in Calexico, Calif., April 5, 2019.PlaySaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Manager: Situation inside migrant holding center 'a ticking time bomb'

U.S. Border Patrol agents packed migrants into overcrowded patrol stations near the Rio Grande Valley, creating conditions so poor that one facility manager called it a "ticking time bomb," according to a new government watchdog report made public on Tuesday.

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In one example, Homeland Security Department inspector general investigators allege that many of the detainees were held in standing-room only conditions for a week and hadn’t showered in a month.

PHOTO: Overcrowding of families observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 11, 2019, at Border Patrols Weslaco, TX, Station. Office of Inspector General/DHS
Overcrowding of families observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 11, 2019, at Border Patrol's Weslaco, TX, Station.

The report makes similar allegations about border stations near El Paso, Texas.

This latest finding by the independent investigators alleges that most of the children held at children-only shelters didn’t have access to showers and were not given a change of clothes.

PHOTO: Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41, some signaling prolonged detention to OIG Staff, observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 12, 2019, at Border Patrols Fort Brown Station. Office of Inspector General/DHS
Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41, some signaling prolonged detention to OIG Staff, observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 12, 2019, at Border Patrol's Fort Brown Station.

The report states that 50 migrant children under the age of seven traveling without their parents were being held in custody at the facilities – some waiting more than two weeks before finally being transferred to a longer term shelter.

The government has wound up with thousands of these children it calls “unaccompanied alien minors” because it does not allow extended relatives such as aunts, uncles and grandparents to accompany children across the border. In the month of May alone, the government counted 11,000 "UACs" at the border.

The watchdog office inspected five facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Children at three of the facilities did not have access to showers and some kids were not provided hot meals, a requirement outlined by government detention standards. Inspectors did find that facilities were stocked with infant formula, diapers, baby wipes as well as juice and snacks.

PHOTO: Overcrowding of families observed by Office of Inspector General, June 10, 2019, at Border Patrols McAllen, TX, Station. Office of Inspector General/DHS
Overcrowding of families observed by Office of Inspector General, June 10, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, TX, Station.

Upon reviewing Border Patrol data, the inspectors found that more than a third of the 2,669 kids kept in the facilities had been held for longer than the 72 hours generally allowed by government regulation. Out of the total population of kids in the inspected locations, more than 1,000 were classified as unaccompanied minors and more than 1,500 had traveled with parents or guardians.

Homeland Security said the number of kids at these facilities was reduced to less than a thousand last week.

PHOTO: Overcrowding of families observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 11, 2019, at Border Patrols McAllen, TX, Centralized Processing Center. Office of Inspector General/DHS
Overcrowding of families observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 11, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, TX, Centralized Processing Center.

“We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained,” Acting Inspector General Jennifer Costello wrote in the report.

Station managers told inspectors that some detainees had taken to clogging toilets with clothing and Mylar blankets, getting themselves released while maintenance workers made repairs.

Some detainees had attempted to escape during maintenance work, according to the report.

PHOTO: Standing room only for adult males observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 10, 2019, at Border Patrols McAllen, TX, Station. Office of Inspector General/DHS
Standing room only for adult males observed by the Office of Inspector General, June 10, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, TX, Station.

DHS said in its response included in the report that it’s devoted to the care of individuals in its custody “with the utmost dignity and respect.”

“The current migration flow and the resulting humanitarian crisis are rapidly overwhelming the ability of the federal government to respond,” DHS wrote.