'Dangerous overcrowding': 900 migrants cram into Border Patrol center designed for 125 people
A group of 1,036 migrants that crossed the border illegally into El Paso, Texas, is the largest the Border Patrol has ever encountered, the agency said Thursday. (May 31) AP Domestic
The surge of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has led to "dangerous overcrowding" and unsanitary conditions at Border Patrol stations around El Paso, Texas, according to a government watchdog report released Thursday.
Inspectors highlighted the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which was designed to hold 125 people but was crammed with 750 migrants on May 7 and 900 migrants the following day, according to the report from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.
The report includes photos of dozens of migrants squeezed together in holding cells and hundreds of migrants massed in the center's outdoor parking lot as they waited to be processed. Border Patrol agents told inspectors that some migrants were forced to stand "for days or weeks" because there wasn't enough room to sit on the floor. Some migrants even stood on toilets "to make room and gain breathing space." CNN first reported the story Friday.
The situation has become so dire that the inspectors had only one recommendation for Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol: Take "immediate steps" to alleviate the overcrowding.
"Although CBP headquarters management has been aware of the situation ... for months and detailed staff to assist with custody management, DHS has not identified a process to alleviate issues with overcrowding," the report concludes.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Border Patrol officials have warned Congress for months that they faced an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking migrants. Yet the report shows, according to Thompson, that Border Patrol officials "completely and utterly failed" to prepare for the very surge they warned about, leading to the dangerous conditions inspectors found.
"The findings serve as further evidence that the Trump Administration is not just neglecting to address the crisis – they are, in fact, exacerbating it," Thompson said in a statement.
The Trump administration struggles to prevent Central American migrants from coming to the USA and to properly care for them once they arrive.
The administration has tried several maneuvers to cut off or limit asylum requests – some were blocked by federal courts, some were allowed to go into effect. Thursday, President Donald Trump tried a new tact, threatening to impose an escalating series of tariffs on Mexican imports if the Mexican government does not completely stop Central American migrants moving through that country on their way toward the USA.
Those efforts haven't worked as a record number of families and children cross the border to request asylum. Border Patrol agents set an all-time record in April by apprehending 58,474 members of family units. Thursday, the agency set a different record when a group of more than 1,000 migrants crossed the border together near El Paso.
That has led to crowded conditions inside and outside Border Patrol stations, detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and privately run shelters that care for migrants released from custody. Six migrant children have died in U.S. government custody in the past year.
In its response to the inspector general report, the Department of Homeland Security said it built a tent that can hold up to 500 migrants in El Paso. It will erect a similar tent there by July 31 and plans a much larger expansion "within 18 months."
The department received $450 million from Congress to improve humanitarian conditions along the southern border, and it requested an additional $1 billion to continue that work.
The inspector general described Homeland Security's response as "partially responsive" to its recommendation and urged the department to take more immediate steps to resolve the overcrowding problem.