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'Help': Photos show hundreds of migrants, children crammed in overflowing border facilities

NBC News logo NBC News 7/2/2019 Julia Ainsley
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WASHINGTON — Government investigators have identified poor conditions in another sector of the southern border, publishing graphic photos of extreme overcrowding in Rio Grande Valley migrant facilities and finding that children there did not have access to showers and had to sleep on concrete.

Previous visits by investigators for the Department of Homeland Security in May to border stations in the El Paso, Texas, border sector found similar conditions: Migrants being held in temporary facilities for weeks rather than days, single adults living in standing-room only cells with no room to lie down, and concerns about serious health risks.

The investigators for the DHS Office of the Inspector General toured five Border Patrol facilities and two ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley during the week of June 10 and published their report as a "management alert" to the department on Tuesday.

Read the full report here.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas has the highest volume of immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. At the time of the visits by investigators, Border Patrol was holding 8,000 detainees in custody, with 3,400 being held longer than the 72-hour limit.

a group of people sitting in a room: Image: Overcrowding at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. Faces blurred by source.

Image: Overcrowding at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. Faces blurred by source.
© Office of Inspector General

One senior manager at a facility called the situation a "ticking time bomb," according to the report. When immigrants detained in the facilities saw investigators walking through, they banged on the cell windows and pressed notes against the plexiglass to show the amount of time they had spent in custody. One said "Help 40 Day[s] Here."

Photo gallery by Reuters

On Monday, NBC News published findings by the Inspector General that detailed poor conditions for migrants in border stations in El Paso as far back as May 7. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said at a press conference on Friday that reports of poor conditions for children in border stations were "unsubstantiated." McAleenan said children were given showers as soon as they could be made available.

According to the latest report on conditions in the Rio Grande Valley, "Most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month."

The report also detailed what it called "security incidents" where immigrants have tried to escape and once refused to return to their cells after being removed for maintenance. To address the problem, Border Patrol called in its special operations force to "demonstrate it was prepared to use force if necessary," the report said.

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