US Politics

Protesters demand action as evidence of overcrowded detention centres emerge

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Protests have erupted in the United States demanding migrant detention centres be closed as government inspectors warn of 'dangerous overcrowding'.

People have taken to the streets across the United States urging an end to migrant detention centres as photos revealed the facilities severely overcrowded conditions. 

The inspector general for the US Department of Homeland Security has become the latest to warn of "dangerous overcrowding" in the Texas facilities, located near the United States-Mexico border.

Crowds of people gathered chanting "close the camps" in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis and San Francisco, including outside the offices of US senators and representatives.

The agency watchdog released its report a day after a group of Democratic lawmakers toured detention centres for undocumented immigrants in the state denouncing conditions there.

In the report, acting DHS Inspector General Jennifer Costello identified urgent concerns that require "immediate attention and action." 

Families packed into areas of Border Patrol's Weslaco,Texas, station.
Families at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas Centralised Processing Centre.
OIG

Ms Costello said her office had toured five Border Patrol holding facilities in Texas's Rio Grande Valley in early June and observed "serious overcrowding and prolonged detention of unaccompanied alien children, families, and single adults."

The report included images taken at several Texas sites, showing dozens of migrants including young children packed shoulder to shoulder into cage-like holding areas or cells.

The acting DHS inspector general said one senior manager at a detention facility described the situation as a "ticking time bomb" and raised security concerns for agency staff and detainees.

Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41.
Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41.
OIG

Fifty-one adult females held in a cell designated for male juveniles with a capacity for 40.
Fifty-one adult females held in a cell designated for male juveniles with a capacity for 40.
OIG

"Border Patrol was holding about 8000 detainees in custody at the time of our visit, with 3400 held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted," she said.

"Data indicates [31 per cent] of the 2669 children at these facilities had been held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted," she added.

Children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities had no access to showers and few spare clothes while two facilities had not provided hot meals, only sandwiches.

Most single adults had not had a shower in a month and were being given wet-wipes. 

Families at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas Centralised Processing Centre.
Families at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas Centralised Processing Centre.
OIG

Standing room only for adult males observed by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.
Standing room only for adult males observed by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.
OIG

US Border Patrol figures show it has made 593,507 southwest border apprehensions between October 2018 and May 2019.

In comparison, the previous fiscal year there were 396,579, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

US Democratic presidential hopefuls denounced the conditions depicted by the report.

"No human being deserves to be treated like this," Senator Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter. "This is abuse, it's dehumanization, and it's not who we are as a country."

Senator Corey Booker said that "this report is nothing short of horrific."

The report comes as the White House and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials pushed back against criticism from the Democratic lawmakers who toured migrant detention facilities.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News stories of women being forced to drink water out of toilets in the facilities were an "outrageous claim."

"Everybody who has control over that facility, or control for the Border Patrol, has said that's not true, they've not heard of this," Ms Conway said.

Overcrowding of families observed by Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General on June 10, 2019 at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas station.
Overcrowding of families observed by Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General on June 10, 2019 at Border Patrol's McAllen, Texas station.
OIG

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, visited two such centres in Texas, described the conditions as "horrifying" and saying migrants were being subjected to "systemic cruelty."

"There's abuse in these facilities," the outspoken Democratic congresswoman from New York told reporters.

The congresswoman again labelling the centres "concentration camps."

But CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez, appearing on CNN, defended the detention centres saying they were "never designed to deal with the volume of migrants coming our way".

He said the Border Patrol is doing its best to deal with "absolutely oversaturated conditions."

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