We are Caging Indigenous People: Government’s Own Investigation Highlights the Human Crisis at Detention Centers

Mark Trahant*

Republished with author's permission from Indian Country Today, July 3, 2019, https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/we-are-caging-indigenous-people-5Rybnz4CrEqjL1k7F7fuAQ/.

The human crisis on the border is worse than previously reported. The government’s own investigation shows that the treatment of migrants by border officials is a “ticking time bomb” that will continue to escalate. The government has had the report since May, but its contents were only released this week.

The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security reviewed five Border Patrol facilities and two ports of entry in Texas and “observed serious overcrowding and prolonged detention of unaccompanied alien children, families, and single adults that require immediate attention.” The report warned of potential riot conditions because of the treatment of those seeking asylum in the United States.

“The current situation on the Southern Border represents an acute and worsening crisis. Our immigration system is not equipped to accommodate a migration pattern like the one we are experiencing now,” the report said. “In May 2019, an average of 4,600 people a day crossed our Southern Border illegally or arrived at ports of entry without proper documents. For comparison, in May 2017, that number was less than 700 a day.”

It said Border Patrol enforcements were up 623 percent from the past year.

The report called the overcrowding an immediate threat. “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,” the Inspector General's report said. “At the time of our visits, Border Patrol management told us there had already been security incidents among adult males at multiple facilities. These included detainees clogging toilets with Mylar blankets and socks in order to be released from their cells during maintenance. At one facility, detainees who had been moved from their cell during cleaning refused to return to their cell. Border Patrol brought in its special operations team to demonstrate it was prepared to use force if necessary.”

This Inspector General reinforces observations made by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after a recent visit to the border. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said not all of the women in detention had access to water and some had not had a bath or shower in more than two weeks. Rep. Castro secretly recorded his visit on a mobile phone. Members of Congress were told by the Border Patrol not to take pictures during their visit.

“Rather than moving [asylum seekers] out of facilities, the Trump administration is paying these contractors [who run the detention centers], some of whom are making billions of dollars, to keep these people there longer and longer,” Castro told the PBS NewsHour. “They need to be moved out of these facilities as quickly as possible, they’re being held way too long, unnecessarily.”

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