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DHS watchdog finds "dangerous overcrowding" at border facility in Texas

Ron Johnson: Border facilities "grossly overcrowded"

A border processing facility in Texas is dangerously overcrowded, with 900 people in holding despite the fact that it's only supposed to hold a maximum of 125 people, according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security obtained by CBS News.

The report found that the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center "does not have the capacity to hold the hundreds currently in custody safely, and has held the majority of its detainees longer than the 72 hours generally permitted under the TEDS (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's Transport, Escort, Detention and Search) standards."

When OIG officials visited the center on May 7 and 8, there were approximately 750 and 900 detainees on site on those two days.

"We observed dangerous overcrowding at the facility with single adults held in cells designed for one-fifth as many detainees," the report said. 

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OIG

The officials saw one cell with a maximum capacity of 12 that was holding 76 detainees, and another with a maximum capacity of 8 that held 41 detainees. Yet another cell with a maximum capacity of 35 contained155 detainees. Some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks.

The overcrowding presents a danger to both the migrants, as well as DHS employees, the report said. 

"Border Patrol management on site said there is a high incidence of illness among their staff. Border Patrol management at PDT and other sites also raised concerns about employee morale and that conditions were elevating anxiety and affecting," the report said. And it also raised the concern that the cramped conditions could cause "rising tensions among detainees [that] could turn violent."

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OIG

The OIG found that the conditions in this facility are very unsanitary, with detainees wearing soiled clothing for "days or weeks."

DHS responded to the recommendation to alleviate overcrowding in the center, saying that CBP "will construct an additional tent by July 31, 2019, and will open a Centralized Processing Center within 18 months." However, the OIG found this response to be insufficient.

"While we consider the actions outlined in DHS' response to be partially responsive to the recommendation, the recommendation will remain unresolved and open until DHS offers an immediate corrective action plan to address the dangerous overcrowding at (the center)," OIG said.

The OIG report comes as tensions increase between the U.S. and Mexico over the influx of migrants over the border. Faulting the Mexican government for not doing enough to curb an unprecedented flow of Central American families heading toward the U.S., President Trump announced Thursday the U.S. would impose new tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico in an effort to pressure the government to take action.

Julia Kimani Burnham contributed to this report.

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