Significant overcrowding in CBP facilities sparks debate
The Inspector General’s Office recent conducted unannounced visits to CBP facilities in Texas and the conditions they found were shocking.
While there is unprecedented overcrowding at some Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) holding facilities, the root causes of this overcrowding are up for debate.
The House Oversight Committee held a hearing entitled, “Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention at CBP Facilities.”
At the hearing, the shocking overcrowded conditions at CBP facilities in the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas were explored.
While there’s no question there is a dangerous level of overcrowding, particularly in the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center Border Patrol processing facility, located at the Paso Del Norte Bridge, Democrats and Republicans disagreed sharply on the root causes.
While Democrats blamed draconian Trump administration policy, Republicans said there is an unprecedented number of people crossing the border - both legally and illegally - and Democrats have failed to provide CPB the necessary funding to deal with it.
In its role as watchdog, the DHSOIG conducted a series of spot and unannounced inspections in facilities in the Rio Grande sector.
In her opening written statement, she described some of the findings.
“During the week of May 6, 2019, we observed dangerous holding conditions at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center Border Patrol processing facility, located at the Paso Del Norte Bridge. This facility, which has a maximum capacity of 125 detainees, had between 750 and 900 detainees onsite on the dates visited. An individual holding cell with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 single adults. Further, some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks.
She continued, “We issued two recent alerts because in the course of our review we identified issues that posed a serious, imminent threat to the health and safety of CBP personnel and detainees requiring immediate action by the Department. CBP Office of Field Operations ports of entry, Border Patrol stations, and processing centers are intended solely for short-term detention. In fact, TEDS standards provide that “[d]etainees should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities. Every effort must be made to hold detainees for the least amount of time required for their processing, transfer, release, or repatriation as appropriate and as operationally feasible.”
Congresswoman Victoria Escobar is a Democrat from the State of Texas, and she provided her own view of the overcrowding.
“My staff visited Border Patrol Station 1 the week before there was a Congressional delegation visit to Clint, and there were 200 women who had been held outdoors in 90 plus degree heat and just yards there as a nearly emptied soft site facility,” she said.
Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is a Democrat from the State of Florida, who was born and raised in Ecuador.
In her observation, she reiterated the less-than-ideal situation of a cell meant for 35 people containing over 155 people.
“They’re kept in standing room cells for days, sometimes weeks, as you mentioned. I think we’re losing all human decency in this country,” Escobar stated.
Sylvia Garcia is a Democrat from the State of Texas and she noted that there were reports of children not getting three hot meals per day.
“In emergency situations, we always talk about getting three hots and a cot. They’re for sure not getting a cot; they’re for sure not getting even getting two hots.”
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is a Democrat from the State of Washington and she noted that people were entering illegally at higher rates because legal ports of entry had been shut down by the Trump administration.
“What happens when you have a policy that blocks the legal ports of entry for people to enter into: Is it reasonable to say that people then, if they can’t come through the legal ports of entry, would then be crossing between the legal ports of entry, because we’ve closed to legal ports of entry,” Jayapal asked rhetorically and then continued. “The reason they’re [apprehensions] are up is in part because the Trump administration has instituted metering, which has essentially closed the legal ports of entry.”
Congressman Lou Correa is a Democrat from the State of California and he noted that border patrol resources have been stretched before, but the scale of the crisis is unprecedented.
“Looking back at the ‘80s, ‘90s, we have had a refugee challenge in this country for a number of years in from Central America,” he said. “Under the Obama administration, I remember as a state senator, going to visit some of the facilities, and I concur with you, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Congresswoman Escobar said, “While some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to focus on resources, I’d like to remind them that there was an emergency supplemental passed in February, there was another emergency supplemental passed a few months later. Nothing has changed. So, it’s not just resources but a matter of policy.”
“Isn’t it true that these locations in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley were specifically selected for inspections because those sectors had seen an unprecedented in the numbers of apprehensions?” asked Congressman Greg Steube, a Republican from the State of Florida.
Shaw said that was one factor.
Congressman Kelly Armstrong is a Republican from the State of North Dakota.
During his five minutes to ask questions, he noted that through the first six months of this year, apprehensions are higher than the same time period for the last five years.
“The El Paso sector has seen an increase of 174 percent of unaccompanied alien children, 1,816 percent of family unions, and 82 percent of single adults,” he said of increases this fiscal year over the previous.
“If there were no illegal crossings, there wouldn’t be overcrowding at these facilities,” he noted.
Congressman Ken Buck is a Republican from Colorado and he said that in 2014 the CBP reported approximately 2,000 people crossed the border daily, while in 2019 that number has gone up to 4,500.”
Buck noted that the scale of the overcrowding is the result of the exponential increase in those crossings - both legally and illegally - and Democrats are disingenuously now crying foul, having only months earlier claimed any crisis was manufactured.
“After months of President [Trump], DHS officials, and other administration officials sounding the alarm about the security and humanitarian crisis on the southern border, well before the Inspector General’s report was published, I’m now encouraged that our colleagues agree there really is a crisis.”