US watchdog reveals grim migrant detention details

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Some illegal border-crossers were held ten times longer than rules permit, DHS inspectors said

The largest US Border Patrol detention facility held almost 90% of illegal border-crossers for far longer – some up to ten times longer – than allowed under current government policy, the Department of Homeland Security said in a report published this week. 

The DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) made unannounced visits to seven facilities in the El Paso, Texas district and found the border patrol treating migrants well, but detaining them for more than 72 hours.

OIG inspectors visited seven Border Patrol facilities in October 2021 – at the start of the federal fiscal year – to verify compliance with the standard on Transport, Escort, Detention and Search (TEDS) protocols. These require migrants to be processed and deported within three days of capture, “as appropriate and operationally feasible.”

The inspections and subsequent analysis “found that Border Patrol held 493 migrants in custody longer than specified in the TEDS standards, which generally limit detention in these facilities to 72 hours,” the OIG report said. 

“Despite prolonged detention times, none of the facilities we inspected was overcrowded,” the report noted, while Border Patrol took “consistent measures” to provide “access to medical care, showers, a change of clothing, blankets and mats, and food and snacks.”

The report zeroed in on the El Paso CPC, a facility built in 2019 in response to “kids in cages” reports critical of the Trump administration’s handling of illegal migration. At the time of the OIG visit, there were 569 migrants detained at the facility – of which 493, or 87%, had been there for longer than 72 hours. Of those, 23 had been detained for 30 days or longer – ten times the TEDS limit.

Inspectors also found “inconsistent implementation of standards related to segregating juveniles from unrelated adults or legal guardians and providing interpretation to detained individuals.”

One of the reasons so many people were held beyond the three-day limit was that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not have enough pilots, forcing the cancellation of three scheduled deportation flights to Ecuador between October 19 and October 29, the OIG noted. The migrants who were supposed to be deported were instead given notices to appear before an immigration court and released into the US.

The Customs and Border Patrol recorded more than two million “encounters” on the southern US border between October 2021 and June 2022. Because some of the encounters are duplicates – migrants who were sent back but try to cross again – the OIG report lists the actual number of individuals who crossed the border illegally in that time period as 1,634, including 104 as of June. The total number for fiscal year 2021 was 1,659,206.

The number of illegal crossings on the US-Mexico border surged following Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2020, with the new president vowing to reform the immigration and asylum process to be more “humane” and “equitable.” On Monday, the Biden administration discontinued its predecessor’s policy of sending asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, making over 5,000 migrants eligible to cross into the US and stay until their claims are adjudicated – a process that can take several years.

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