McALLEN — During the influx of migrant families to the U.S.-Mexico border last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials failed to meet certain detention standards for those in their care.
According to a recently published report from the Office of the Inspector General, the largest inspector general’s office in the federal government tasked with combating fraud, waste and abuse, and to improve the efficiency of Health and Human Services programs, CBP facilities “struggled” to meet detention standards for migrants in their care during the months of May and June 2019.
Between April 2, 2019, and June 12, 2019, OIG staff conducted unannounced inspections at 21 U.S. Border Patrol facilities and CBP ports of entry in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Of the 21 facilities, OIG staff conducted six in the Rio Grande Valley; including Fort Brown, formerly Port Isabel Station, the Border Patrol station in Weslaco and Donna, the central processing center in McAllen, also known as the Ursula Detention Center, and ports of entry in Hidalgo and Progreso, the report stated.
The unannounced visits at the different facilities took place during fiscal year 2019; when there was a “surge” of border crossings between ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP reported more than 850,000 apprehensions during that period; and characterized it as a time of “unprecedented border security and humanitarian crisis.”
Among the issues the OIG report highlighted was overcapacity at several of the Border Patrol stations, where inspections were conducted by OIG staff.
“Although Border Patrol established temporary holding facilities to alleviate overcrowding, it struggled to limit detention to the 72 hours generally permitted, as options for transferring detainees out of CBP custody to long-term facilities were limited,” the report stated.
The report singled-out the facilities in Texas, and specifically in the Valley; stating “issues were so severe at one Border Patrol facility in El Paso and four facilities in the Rio Grande Valley that in May and June 2019, we issued Management Alerts recommending CBP take immediate action.”
As a result of the aforementioned violations; civil rights groups filed lawsuits in 2019 against the administration in federal court on behalf of detainees who claim they were held past the 72-hour mark.
With respect to the care of unaccompanied children, at some locations, Border Patrol failed to “meet certain standards for detainee care, such as offering children access to telephone calls and safeguarding detainee property.”
In contrast to Border Patrol, which could not control apprehensions, CBP’s ports of entry could limit detainee access, and generally met applicable detention standards.
The report states that in regards to access to medical care, and despite the aforementioned issues, they found that all 21 facilities generally met the TEDS standards for access to medical care, and CBP took extraordinary measures to deploy Federal health professionals.
TEDS is a CBP policy that dictates the Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search of people in their care.
“For example, CBP expanded an existing medical contract, conducted medical screenings of all detainees before entrance into a facility, and arranged dedicated appointment hours at local clinics,” the report stated. “However, CBP still struggled with health challenges, like managing contagious illnesses in its facilities.”
Additionally, although Border Patrol generally met TEDS standards for access to water, food, toilets and basic hygiene supplies, conditions in some facilities fell short of other TEDS standards, such as giving children hot meals and a change of clothing, providing access to showers and safeguarding detainee property.
OIG did not evaluate compliance with all provisions of TEDS standards, instead prioritized those that protect children and other at-risk detainees, as well as those related to access to medical care, the report stated.
OIG staff reported that because their office does not have medical expertise, they did not evaluate the quality of medical care CBP provided detainees.
The OIG report contained two recommendations aimed at improving CBP’s documentation and tracking of compliance with existing standards regarding telephone access for unaccompanied undocumented minor children and proper handling of detainee property.
CBP concurred with the recommendations, the OIG report stated.
CBP has 30 days from the report’s publication to put in place action to address the issues reported in the OIG report.