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‘Ticking Time Bomb’: New Government Report Details Overcrowding, Prolonged Detention and Security Risks at Border Patrol Facilities

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A new government report describes in detail the prolonged detention, overcrowding and security risks at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, including facilities housing children and families.

The report, published by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, included details of visits to five detention facilities and two ports of entry, including several photos. In one photo, 88 men are huddled in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41.

The report described the situation as “a ticking time bomb,” detailing the scenes witnessed:

Senior Managers at several facilities raised concerns for their agents and detainees. For example, one called the situation “a ticking time bomb.” Moreover, we ended our site visit at one Border Patrol facility early because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation. Specifically, when detainees observed us, they banged on cell windows, shouted, pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody.

Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with maximum capacity of 41, some signaling prolonged detention to Office of Inspector General (OIG) staff, observed by OIG on June 12, 2019, at Border Patrol's Fort Brown Station.Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General

The facilities visited were designed to detain migrants for no more than 72 hours, but the report says investigators found prolonged detention at all five facilities. They found 3,400 detainees had been held longer than that, and 1,500 of whom had been in custody for more than 10 days. Out of 2,669 children, 826 had been in custody for longer than 72 hours. It also found overcrowding at four of the five facilities.

Overcrowding of families observed by OIG on June 11, 2019, at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas, Centralized Processing Center.Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General

The publication of the report comes amid several weeks of public turmoil for CBP. In a little over a week, reports have spread of unsanitary and inhumane conditions at a detention facility housing migrant children in Clint, Texas, and the head of Border Patrol John Sanders resigned and a ProPublica story uncovered roughly 9,500 current and former border patrol agents were members of a secret Facebook group sharing offensive content.

The House Oversight Committee has scheduled a July 12 hearing to address these issues. The committee asked acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan to testify, but neither have accepted the invitation, according to the committee.

“The Trump Administration’s actions at the southern border are grotesque and dehumanizing,” Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a statement. “There seems to be open contempt for the rule of law and for basic human decency. The committee needs to hear directly from the heads of these agencies as soon as possible in light of the almost daily reports of abuse and defiance. I encourage Acting Secretary McAleenan and Acting Commissioner Morgan to appear voluntarily in order to answer these critical questions.”

The Inspector General report acknowledged that the Trump administration has had to deal with growing numbers of migrants arriving to the U.S. The report details conversations with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), who is responsible for providing long-term detention, and urges DHS to transfer single adults to ICE custody as quickly as possible.

DHS responded to the Inspector General by saying Congress needs to act.

“Without Congressional action to address legal and judicial loopholes, families and [unaccompanied alien children] will continue to be incentivized by the smuggling organizations to make the dangerous journey and be encouraged by the likelihood that families will not be detained during their immigration proceedings,” a DHS response contained in the report reads. “As more migrants become emboldened by these loopholes, CBP expects this influx to not only continue, but to escalate.”

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com