WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led 17 of her colleagues in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, raising concerns about a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report detailing severe and dangerous overcrowding of migrants at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center (PDT) during unannounced inspections conducted on May 8 and 9, 2019.

“On May 31, 2019, the DHS OIG published a report entitled Management Alert – DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding Among Single Adults at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which detailed findings of overcrowding at PDT so severe that in some cases it created standing-room-only conditions for migrants for weeks,” wrote the Senators. “We believe DHS must take immediate action to address this critical health and safety issue and other humanitarian conditions that threaten vulnerable populations, especially children. These are human lives at stake, and you must do more to ensure that personnel are properly trained and DHS operations respect human life and dignity.”

BACKGROUND: Last month, Senator Rosen questioned Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on misleading statements DHS officials made to Senator Rosen and Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24) during their 2018 visit to the US-Mexico Border. Senator Rosen and Congressman Carbajal traveled together to Texas to visit a facility housing unaccompanied immigrant minors in Tornillo and U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s Paso del Norte Processing Center in El Paso. DHS and HHS personnel assured them that their agencies had the information and resources needed to reunite separated migrant families.

Rosen called out blatant discrepancies between DHS’s public statements and its commitments to the Members about the Department’s ability to reunite separated children with their families, and internal agency emails that reveal that the agency knew it lacked the information needed to connect parents and relatives with children it separated. Rosen also asked McAleenan to commit to telling the truth regarding the Administration’s immigration policies going forward.

Read the full text of the letter here and below:

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:

We are deeply disturbed by the findings in a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report detailing severe and dangerous overcrowding of migrants at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center (PDT) during unannounced inspections conducted on May 8 and 9, 2019. We request that you take immediate action to implement the DHS Inspector General’s (IG) recommendations to ensure the health and safety of migrant families and children.

On May 31, 2019, the DHS OIG published a report entitled Management Alert – DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding Among Single Adults at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which detailed findings of overcrowding at PDT so severe that in some cases it created standing-room-only conditions for migrants for weeks. The report concluded that “PDT 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 standards.”

According to the report, PDT can hold a maximum of 125 detainees at one time. However, on May 7 and 8, the U.S. Border Patrol’s custody logs showed that more than 750 and 900 migrants were detained each day. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) dictate that “under no circumstances should the maximum [cell] occupancy rate, as set by the fire marshal, be exceeded.” Despite being bound by TEDS, Border Patrol held more than 500 migrants longer than 72 hours, and more than 30 migrants for more than two weeks.  The IG cited three particularly egregious instances of overcrowding, including: 1) a cell with a maximum capacity of 12 holding 76 migrants; 2) a cell with a maximum capacity of 8 holding 41 migrants; and 3) a cell with a maximum capacity of 35 holding 155 migrants. This is unacceptable and requires immediate action by DHS leadership to ensure that such situations never occur again.

Maintaining hygiene standards in such overcrowding is impossible, and indeed the report shows conditions are deplorable. The OIG reports that migrants lacked clean clothing, were “standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” and raised medical complaints out of desperation for temporary relief from the cells. Border Patrol discarded the personal belongings of migrants – the only personal items they own – citing them as a “biohazard.” It should come as no surprise that the OIG found the conditions have been “wearing down” migrant women in detention, many if not most of whom are traveling with children. Prolonged detention in overcrowded conditions places these families at increased risk of trauma and illness, which is the reason that TEDS and other detention standards exist in the first place.

DHS suffers already from low morale and limping recruitment.  The humanitarian crisis at detention facilities only exacerbates challenging working conditions for CBP agents and officers. The report raised concerns about DHS management at PDT and explained that the conditions “were elevating anxiety and affecting employees’ personal lives.” The report states that in some cases, Border Patrol personnel who are eligible for retirement have opted to retire early while others are considering alternative careers. 

To our frustration, the OIG’s findings were only the latest in a seemingly endless stream of public reports of inhumane treatment of migrants in border detention facilities. At least six migrant children have died since last September, four of whom were in DHS custody. Unaccompanied children have slept outside or on concrete benches at Border Patrol facilities. Last year, lack of coordination between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Office of Refugee Resettlement during family reunifications, resulted in 37 migrant children being kept in vans – most for more than 23 hours – before finally being reunited with their parents.

In our view, the answers you provided to the IG’s recommendations are insufficient. In your response to the IG’s recommendations, you indicate that Customs and Border Protection has constructed a 500-person holding capacity soft-sided structure, will construct an additional tent by July 31, 2019, and a Centralized Processing Center with a completion date of November 30, 2020. However, this does not provide an immediate solution to the dangerous overcrowding at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center. We believe DHS must take immediate action to address this critical health and safety issue and other humanitarian conditions that threaten vulnerable populations, especially children. These are human lives at stake, and you must do more to ensure that personnel are properly trained and DHS operations respect human life and dignity.  

Given the severity of the DHS OIG findings, we respectfully request that you provide answers to the following questions within 21 days. Additionally, we request that you provide a briefing to Senators on the conditions of migrant detention and processing centers.

1.)      Since the Department has communicated to the IG that it is unable to alleviate the overcrowding at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center until November 30, 2020, what will it do about immediate overcrowding in the interim year and a half?

2.)      Are the nationwide TEDS standards still the governing policy on CBP’s interaction with detained individuals? If so, what is the Department doing to ensure that people are processed within the 72-hour rule, as established by TEDS?

3.)      What is the Department doing to ensure that health and safety measures are being taken to ensure the wellbeing of migrants being processed?
 

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

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Rosen lidera una carta exigiendo respuestas del DHS sobre las condiciones peligrosas de retención de inmigrantes 

WASHINGTON, DC - Hoy, la Senadora Jacky Rosen (D-NV), miembro del Comité de Seguridad Nacional y Asuntos Gubernamentales del Senado, lidero una carta, junto con 17 de sus colegas, dirigida al Secretario interino del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS, por sus siglas en inglés) Kevin McAleenan, expresando preocupaciones sobre un informe de la Oficina del Inspector General (OIG, por sus siglas en inglés) publicado recientemente que detalla las peligrosas condiciones en las que inmigrantes están siendo detenidos en el Centro de Procesamiento de El Paso Del Norte (PDT, por sus siglas en inglés). Estas inspecciones no anunciadas fueron realizadas el 8 y 9 de mayo del 2019.

“El 31 de mayo del 2019, el Inspector General del DHS publicó un informe titulado Alerta de servicio: el DHS debe Solucionar el Problema del Peligroso Hacinamiento de Adultos en el Centro de Procesamiento de El Paso del Norte, que detalló las severas condiciones de hacinamientos en el PDT, incluyendo condiciones en las que los migrantes tenían que mantenerse de pie por semanas”, escribieron los Senadores. “Creemos que el DHS debe tomar medidas inmediatas para solucionar este problema de salud y seguridad. Así mismo, debe mejorar las condiciones humanitarias que amenazan a las poblaciones vulnerables, especialmente a los niños que se encuentran en estas instalaciones. Estas vidas humanas están en juego, y ustedes deben hacer más para garantizar que el personal esté debidamente capacitado y que las operaciones del DHS respeten la vida y la dignidad humana.”

ANTECEDENTES: El mes pasado, la Senadora Rosen cuestionó al secretario interino Kevin McAleenan sobre declaraciones engañosas que los funcionarios del DHS le hicieron a la Senadora Rosen y al Congresista Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24) durante su visita del 2018 a la frontera. La Senadora Rosen y el Congresista Carbajal viajaron juntos a Texas para visitar un centro que albergaba a menores no acompañados en Tornillo y el Centro de Procesamiento Paso del Norte de Aduanas y Protección de Fronteras de los Estados Unidos en El Paso. El personal de DHS y HHS les aseguró que sus agencias tenían la información y los recursos necesarios para reunir a familias migrantes que fueron separadas.

Rosen mencionó las flagrantes discrepancias entre las declaraciones públicas de DHS y sus compromisos con los miembros sobre la capacidad del DHS para reunir a niños separados con sus familias, y correos electrónicos internos de la agencia que revelan que la misma agencia sabía que les faltaba la información necesaria para reunir a los padres y familiares con niños que habían sido separados. Rosen también le pidió a McAleenan que se comprometiera a decir la verdad sobre las políticas de inmigración de la Administración en el futuro.

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