Some of the most damning evidence of inhumane conditions in immigration detention comes from official government sources, specifically from reports of the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General (OIG). The Inspector General’s most recent report, titled DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley, documents the same conditions that Congressional representatives, lawyers, and doctors have reported. A May OIG report also called for immediate changes: the July report confirms that those changes were not made and that severe overcrowding and inhumane conditions continue.
“During our visits to five Border Patrol facilities and two ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley, we reviewed compliance with CBP’s Transport, Escort, Detention and Search (TEDS) standards, which govern CBP’s interaction with detained individuals, and observed serious overcrowding and prolonged detention of unaccompanied alien children (UACs), families, and single adults that require immediate attention.”
The OIG report found that almost one-third of the detained children are held longer than legally permitted. Also, “children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities we visited had no access to showers” and no access to a change of clothes or laundry facilities. In one adult detention center, the OIG reported, “some single adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells.”
Adults were also denied adequate health and nutrition. The OIG reported that “most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month.”
Doctor Dolly Lucio Sevier described the conditions in a Border Patrol warehouse for children on Ursula Avenue:
“Inside the Border Patrol warehouse on Ursula Avenue, Dolly Lucio Sevier saw a baby who’d been fed from the same unwashed bottle for days; children showing signs of malnutrition and dehydration; and several kids who, in her medical opinion, were exhibiting clear evidence of psychological trauma. More than 1,000 migrant children sat in the detention facility here, and Sevier, a local pediatrician, had been examining as many as she could, one at a time. But she wasn’t permitted to enter the area where they were being held, many of them in cages, and find the sickest kids to examine. Instead, in a nearby room, she manually reviewed a 50-page printout of that day’s detainees, and highlighted the names of children with a 2019 birth date—the babies—before moving on to the toddlers….
“As agents brought in the children she requested, Sevier said, the smell of sweat and soiled clothing filled the room. They had not been allowed to bathe or change since crossing the Rio Grande and turning themselves over to officials. Sevier found that about two-thirds of the kids she examined had symptoms of respiratory infection. The guards wore surgical masks, but the detainees breathed the air unfiltered. As the children filed in, Sevier said she found evidence of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and malnutrition too.”
Current administration policy requires detention, rather than release on bond or supervision. That policy violates U.S. law, according to a judge’s ruling last week requiring that asylum applicants be allowed bond hearings.
Alternatives to the inhumane and overcrowded detention centers exist, and are both less expensive and more humane.
“Until a few years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was running two alternative programs at the national level: the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), which involves electronic monitoring, and the less restrictive Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which relied on community monitoring. The administration ended one of the programs and has not expanded the other. The methods used in these programs are available to DHS, and are much cheaper than traditional detention — but the Trump administration is operating as if locking everyone up in squalid conditions is the only way….
“Electronic monitoring and community supervision are just a couple of the options the Trump administration could prioritize instead of detention. They would also save the US government a ton of money, which is something Republicans say they care about.
“To understand just how expensive it is for DHS to house, shelter, and feed immigrants, all you have to do is look at the agency’s own numbers. In its budget request for fiscal year 2018, DHS said that it cost about $133.99 per day to hold an adult immigrant in detention and $319.37 for an individual in family detention. Meanwhile, the agency said the average cost of placing someone in an alternative program is $4.50 per day.
“Recent estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services show that housing immigrants in tent cities would cost a whopping $775 a day per detainee, according to documents reviewed this summer by reporters at NBC News.”
In Other News
Two secret Facebook groups for Border Patrol agents contain racist and demeaning posts about immigrants, Asians, and Latin Americans and lewd and insulting memes of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Customs and Border Protection said it will investigate and denounced the posts. However, later reports show that CBP knew of at least one of the groups years ago, has monitored it, and has taken no disciplinary action.
Interpreters are essential for immigration court hearings, but the Trump administration is preparing to limit their use, replacing interpreters with videos:
“The Trump administration is preparing to replace in-court interpreters at initial immigration court hearings with videos informing asylum seekers and other immigrants facing deportation of their rights, The Chronicle has learned….
“Under the new plan, which the Justice Department told judges could be rolled out by mid-July, a video recorded in multiple languages would play, informing immigrants of their rights and the course of the proceedings. But after that, if immigrants have questions, want to say something to the judge or if the judge wants to confirm they understand, no interpreter would be provided….
“It’s a disaster in the making,” one judge said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person did not have Justice Department approval to talk publicly. “What if you have an individual that speaks an indigenous language and has no education and is completely illiterate? You think showing them a video is going to completely inform them of their rights? How are they supposed to ask questions of the judge?”
In another move designed to limit asylum seekers’ access to courts, the administration plans to implement mass hearings for immigrants in detention, with vide hearings conducted by judges in distant cities.
“If implemented as described in the Capitol Hill briefing, the mass proceedings will severely undermine civil liberties, not to mention the national immigration court system and asylum in America. Immigrants trying to make their cases will be physically present for their hearings on the border. But the judges presiding by video will be hundreds or thousands of miles away, in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago.
“It is still not clear if immigrants’ lawyers will be allowed in the tents with their clients, said Levy, the El Paso immigration attorney who spoke to a government official about the new plan. She said she has heard that it’s “quite possible” that attorneys will have to commute to the courts of the judges presiding by video.
“Information that the activists and policy groups have received indicates that immigration reporters and observers located at the border will also be banned from local proceedings. Instead, they will have to travel to the judges’ far-flung courts in the interior. The task of the public and the media will be further complicated by the fact that asylum cases often change judges and cities on short notice. Immigrants, too, will lose their ability to have family and witnesses attend court with them. …
“The situation already is “surreal,” according to Levy. “I have never seen so much crying in court,” she said. “People are so afraid to go back to Mexico. Sometimes the proceedings have to stop because the crying is so loud that the recording equipment can’t pick up words.” Levy expects the crying to get worse if the tent plan is implemented — and fears that no one who cares will be inside them to hear it.”