03/07/2019 11:44 PM AEST

Homeland Security Watchdog Warns Of 'Severe Overcrowding' At Migrant Detention Centers

One official at a Border Patrol facility told investigators that the migrant crisis is a "ticking time bomb."

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found “dangerous overcrowding,” prolonged detention and health risks to migrants at multiple Border Patrol facilities in South Texas, according to a report the agency watchdog released Tuesday.

One official at a Border Patrol facility told investigators that the migrant crisis is a “ticking time bomb.”

Investigators published their report as a “management alert” to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan after touring five Border Patrol facilities and two ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley sector in June. The investigators visited the El Paso sector’s border facilities in May and said in their report that the Rio Grande Valley facilities have similar issues, such as migrants being detained for longer than they should be, single adults in cells that don’t have enough space to lie down and serious health risks.

The report includes graphic photos of extremely crowded detention centers filled with men, women and children. Some migrants wore masks, and some slept on the concrete floor. One cell with a capacity of 41 people was holding 88 men, one of whom held a sign against the window to investigators saying, “HELP 40 Days Here.”

Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General
Eighty-eight adult males held in a cell with a maximum capacity of 41, some signaling prolonged detention to inspectors from the Office of the Inspector General, who visited the Border Patrol’s Fort Brown Station on June 12.
Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General
The inspectors observed families crowded into the Border Patrol’s McAllen, Texas, station on June 10.
Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General
Families held at the Weslaco, Texas, station on June 11.

“[W]e ended our site visit at one Border Patrol facility early because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation,” the report said. “When detainees observed us, they banged on the cell windows, shouted, pressed notes to the window with their time in custody, and gestured to evidence of their time in custody (e.g., beards).”

Border Patrol had about 8,000 detained migrants at the time investigators visited, 43% of which had been held longer than the generally permitted 72 hours, the report said. Border Patrol custody data indicates that nearly a third of the almost 2,700 children at these facilities had been held longer than 72 hours, and 50 of those children were younger than 7, with some who had been held for more than two weeks.

Children in three of the five Rio Grande Valley facilities investigators visited had no access to showers, while “most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for providing short-term detention for migrants coming into the U.S. without valid documents to allow for initial processing, then it is supposed to transfer them to other government agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But because ICE and HHS are struggling to keep up with the surge in migrants crossing the border, they are being held longer by CBP.

The inspector general’s report detailed what it called “security incidents” in which migrants tried to escape and at one point refused to return to their cells after being removed during maintenance. The U.S. Border Patrol reportedly called in its special operations force to “demonstrate it was prepared to use force if necessary,” according to the report.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Tuesday that his committee will hold a hearing on the migrant crisis on July 12. He invited McAleenan and Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan to testify at the hearing, though it’s unclear whether they will show up.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted in response to the OIG’s report saying, “These are concentration camps.” The congresswoman, who visited Border Patrol facilities in El Paso with other House Democrats on Monday, sparked controversy last month for invoking the image of Nazi concentration camps (which do not always equate to death camps).

“According to concentration camp experts, people begin to die due to overcrowding, neglect, and shortage of resources,” she tweeted on Tuesday. “We saw all three of those signs on our trip yesterday. Another person died yesterday. And those are the deaths we know about.”

Read the full report below: