Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) recently visited a border facility in Texas, and posted what appears to be severe overcrowding at the site.
A photo Rep. Coleman posted shows dozens of people — men, women, and children — crammed into a holding cell. Many of the immigrants in the photo are laying on top of each other. Others are sitting on the floor, back to back, and appear unable to move about the cell due to overcrowding.
“The El Paso Del Norte [facility], which I visited, early last month is holding 750-900 migrants inside a facility with a max capacity of 125,” Rep. Coleman wrote.
Today the @DHSgov's Inspector General revealed dangerous levels of overcrowding at border facilities. The El Paso Del Norte, which I visited, early last month is holding 750-900 migrants inside a facility with a max capacity of 125 pic.twitter.com/Un8ZcXRK4B
— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@RepBonnie) May 31, 2019
According to a new report released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), immigrants at the El Paso Del Norte facility were in unsafe “standing-room only conditions.” The OIG’s unannounced surprise inspection of the facility found that a cell built for just 12 detainees contained 76 people. Another cell built for just eight detainees contained 41 people.
“[U.S. Customs and Border Protection] was struggling to maintain hygienic conditions in the holding cells,” the OIG report read. “With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks.”
“We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” the report continued. “[C]orrective action is critical to the immediate health and safety needs of detainees.”
The overcrowding at the El Paso Del Norte facility resulted in hundreds of immigrants being caged under a bridge, which a Washington Post reporter documented in March. Officials acknowledged that keeping the families detained under the bridge was due to overcrowding at the adjacent facility. Some of the families told reporters they had been kept under the bridge for up to four days.
Border facility overcrowding may be a byproduct of the Trump administration’s policy of detaining undocumented immigrants and prosecuting them, as opposed to turning detainees back after arresting them. The OIG report found that border apprehensions increased by 619% in the period between October-April of 2017 and October-April of 2018.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.