How long can you treat people like shit before they begin to fight back?
Government officials have recently been insisting that everything is fine at their border detention facilities. On Friday, for instance, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said that conditions at the Clint, TX, border facility, from which hundreds of children were recently vacated (and then, in some cases, sent back), were “clean and well-managed.” He also referred to claims by lawyers who spoke to children at the facility and reported that they were fed uncooked or frozen food, had gone weeks without bathing, and were sometimes forced to watch over other sick children themselves—as “unsubstantiated allegations.”
The problem is that reality—and the government’s own internal reporting—keeps getting in the way of these rosy assessments. On Monday, NBC News reported that the inspector general of McAleenan’s own agency has been sounding the alarm about border conditions since May. During a tour at an unnamed facility in Customs and Border Protection’s El Paso sector—which covers Texas’ farthest west counties and the state of New Mexico—the resulting report noted that CBP agents “remained armed in holding areas because they were worried about the potential for unrest.”
Why would there be unrest? According to the report, just four showers were available for over 750 people, holding cells were at five times their capacity, and over half of the people detained in that facility were “being held outside.” Per NBC News, emphasis mine:
A cell meant for a maximum of 35 held 155 adult males with only one toilet and sink. The cell was so crowded the men could not lie down to sleep. Temperatures in the cells reached over 80 degrees, the report said.
“With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks,” the report said.
Medical concerns were also rising during early May, the report found. Agents reported taking sick migrants to the hospital five times a day, treating 75 immigrants for lice in a single day and trying to quarantine outbreaks of flu, chickenpox and scabies.
While this particular El Paso facility, the name of which is redacted in the report, did have formula and baby food for children, it did not have soft mats for them to sleep on or clean clothing.
On Sunday, a federal judge ordered CBP to let doctors into child detention centers, over the objections of Attorney General William Barr and other defendants who requested that the judge “set a schedule for briefing these issues that provides defendants with a full and fair opportunity to respond to the allegations that plaintiffs have lodged against them.”
According to the DHS report, CBP agents were worried about riots or the potential for a hunger strike due to the conditions. The report also noted increased levels of “drinking, domestic violence and financial problems” among CBP agents.
If there’s any surprise here, it’s that it took this long for the Department of Homeland Security to note the potential for unrest among people who are being treated as subhuman by the United States government. Unfortunately, given the Trump administration’s utter indifference and outright hostility towards the well-being of migrants, it’s likely that this crisis is going to get worse before it gets better. I have reached out to DHS for comment and will update if I hear back.