Rep. Lofgren Chairs Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on Conditions at U.S. Southern Border

July 16, 2019
Press Release
Rep. Lofgren Chairs Hearing Featuring U.S. Assistant Inspector General Testifying to Conditions Migrant Families Endure at U.S. Border

Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, chaired a hearing of the Subcommittee entitled “Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Facilities” featuring Diana Shaw, Assistant Inspector General for Special Reviews and Evaluations, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General.

Below are Rep. Lofgren’s prepared remarks:

In just five weeks’ time, the DHS Inspector General (IG) released two “Management Alerts” detailing the dangerous conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Texas.  According to the IG, conditions at some of these facilities are so bad that they require “immediate attention and action.”

The first alert focused on the detention of single adults and detailed the “dangerous holding conditions at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center.”  Unfortunately, this report was not a surprise to me and my colleagues.  Along with Vice Chair Jayapal and Chairman Nadler, I visited this same facility just a few months ago.

Even then, the conditions we observed were unacceptable.  Women, children, and families were either outside waiting to enter the facility, shoved into overcrowded cells, or sitting in hallways.  Prior to our visit, we understood that hundreds of families had been housed outside for days in a tent behind the Border Patrol facility.  We expected to meet with them, but to our surprise, the tent was empty.  It was not until after our visit that we learned that the families had been transported to another outdoor facility the night before. 

It is unfortunate, but also not surprising, that the IG’s observations are even more disturbing.

As demonstrated in the IG’s report, although the facility’s maximum capacity is 125 detainees, approximately 750 individuals were detained on May 7 and 900 individuals were detained on May 8.  Overcrowding to this extent is a clear violation of CBP’s own standards, which provide that “under no circumstances should the maximum [cell] occupancy rate, as set by the fire marshal, be exceeded.”

The IG also found that a significant number of individuals were being held longer than the maximum 72 hours set forth in CBP standards.  And although CBP is required to make a reasonable effort to provide showers for adults after 72 hours, most adults had not received showers at all, and some had not showered in as long as a month.

In June, the IG completed another round of inspections, this time in the Texas Rio Grande Valley sector.  Here, the IG found serious overcrowding and other dangerous conditions at facilities holding families and unaccompanied children.  According to the IG, 31 percent of children—including children 7 years old and younger—had been held in custody for more than 72 hours, some for more than two weeks.  This violates not only CBP standards, but the Flores Agreement as well. 

Sadly, we know that the conditions documented by the IG are not limited to the facilities they visited.  In June, lawyers reported horrific conditions at the Clint, Texas Border Patrol facility, where some children had been held for weeks, “sleeping on cold floors and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards.”  Just last week, it was reported that a 15-year-old girl from Honduras was sexually assaulted by a Border Patrol agent in Yuma while other agents watched. 

There is a humanitarian crisis on our border.  And yes, Health and Human Services needed—and now has—additional resources so that children can be moved out of CBP facilities more quickly and into facilities built with their needs in mind.  However, a lack of money is not the primary reason for this crisis. 

The Trump Administration has made no secret of its intent to do all it can to deter children and families from seeking protection in the United States without addressing the root causes that are driving migration to our border.  It is sad and it is despicable.  The mistreatment of these children and families is a moral stain on our nation. 

I appreciate the willingness of the Inspector General to testify before us today.  The spot inspections conducted by the IG have shed a light on some of the Trump Administration’s worst practices.  We cannot not look away. 

It is well past time for the cruelty of these policies to be exposed and for those who led the United States into this disaster to be held accountable.  Today’s hearing is just the beginning of the oversight we will conduct on this important issue.