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U.S. Migrant Detention Centers Overcrowded, Filthy And 'Require Immediate Attention'

U.S. Border Patrol Wikimedia Commons CC-0:http://bit.ly/2JrNBle
U.S. Border Patrol agents conduct intake of illegal border crossers at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.

Thousands of migrant children and adults are currently subject to dangerous overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and prolonged internment at U.S. detention facilities.

Many came across the southern border from Central America to seek asylum from dangerous situations in their home countries, only to face new perils in government detention.

A recent report from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General calls these “urgent issues that require immediate attention and action.” Centers are described as grossly overcrowded, often with standing-room-only cells. Migrants are not fed hot meals or allowed to shower, per the report.

Numerous migrants, including children, have died in federal custody. Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were reported to be spreading among hundreds of children at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection say the situation is “extraordinarily challenging,” citing the influx of migrants crossing the border and insufficient space and funding.

According to a July 1 DHS memo, a daily average of 4,600+ people crossed the southern border in May, either “illegally or arrived at ports of entry without proper documents.”

CBP is responsible for providing short-term detention for individuals arriving in the U.S. without valid documentation, while they are being processed for transfer to other agencies – Immigration and Customs Enforcement for single adults and some families, and the Department of Health and Human Services for unaccompanied minors.

Both agencies are operating at or above capacity, according to the Inspector General’s report. Previously, asylum-seekers were released to await trial – a practice mostly ended under Trump’s administration. Per the Flores Agreement, children are generally not supposed to be held at Border Patrol facilities for longer than 72 hours.

What combination of circumstances led to the troubling conditions for migrants in detention? What’s being done to address and remedy these humanitarian issues? Is there political pressure to find solutions?


  • U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
  • John Burnett, Southwest correspondent for NPR covering immigration and border issues
  • Grace Meng, acting deputy director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch and a senior immigration researcher

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 210-614-8980, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet at @TPRSource. 


*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, July 9.



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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.