Putting Our Country to the Test
The crisis on the US southern border is spiraling out of control and testing this country’s real commitment to humanitarian needs and basic human rights. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been monitoring this situation and urging swift action be taken to resolve a disturbing and potentially deadly situation. In its official response the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) described the situation as “an acute and worsening crisis”, but during interviews with OIG senior managers of the CPB described it as “a ticking time bomb”.
When undocumented immigrants arrive at the border and are detained by CPB they are held in short-term detention facilities until they can be processed and received by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to CPB’s operating guidelines these detainees are not to be held for more than 3 days. Unfortunately, due to an overwhelming number of immigrants showing up at the border both CPB and ICE have exceeded their capacity to hold immigrants. Since the CPB facilities are meant to be short-term only the conditions at these facilities is extraordinarily dire, and what is supposed to be a maximum of 72 hours has turned into months for some.
In its most recent report the OIG surveyed 5 facilities that were currently housing approximately 8,000 detainees. Out of these 3,400 detainees had been held over the 72-hour limit, and 1,500 had been held more than 10 days. No doubt many of the remaining detainees will eventually be held for longer as well. The issue of unaccompanied children has gathered much media attention recently, but the conditions at these facilities are unacceptable to human beings period. In many cases we provide better for enemy combatants held for terrorism in Guantanamo Bay.
We have cases documented by the OIG of children under 7 years old being held for more than two weeks. In 3 out of the 5 facilities surveyed by the OIG these children (as well as the adults) did not even have access to showers. In one instance an agent said that he had provided detainees with wet wipes to maintain hygiene. In 2 of the facilities surveyed it was documented that children were not even provided hot meals until the inspectors arrived. This shows that CBP has attempted to cover up its treatment of detainees in some cases from the inspectors. Many children and adults have been fed only bologna sandwiches and have become constipated as a result — this can last for months.
In one visit the OIG was forced to suspend its investigation because of the agitation that was being caused by the inspector’s presence. Detainees were holding signs up in windows to make the horrid conditions they faced known to the inspectors. The OIG also documented that detainees had been intentionally clogging toilets to get released from their cells during maintenance and would try to escape while out. In at least one instance the CPB brought in its Special Operations Team to show that force would be used if necessary.
We must end this crisis as soon as possible and building a wall will not do it. In most cases these undocumented immigrants want to be processed by customs to apply for asylum or other immigrant status. The money we spend building walls is desperately needed for humanitarian aid to address this crisis. Without it this will be another ugly scar in the history of the United States.
By Nicholas Detweiler
Chief of Staff of the Pluralism Project
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