Diarrhea was rampant, children were losing weight and parents had to wash dirty clothes in sinks because guards wouldn’t provide them with clean items, mothers at an overcrowded Texas border facility in Laredo told department investigators last month. Homeland Security, according to an internal report. Report obtained by The Times.
The crisis at the Laredo facility is detailed in the first of two May memos from the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman. The relatively new oversight office is tasked with reviewing conditions within the vast DHS detention system. The memos, intended for agency leadership, include details about conditions at many facilities along the southern border this spring.
The second report, also obtained by The Times, describes alleged deficiencies in medical care at a detention center in Donna, Texas, that held an 8-year-old Panamanian girl who later died in Border Patrol custody.
The reports were created during a time of intense stress on the nation’s immigration detention system. Arrests at the southern border spiked in the week leading up to the May 11 expiration of Title 42, the public health measure that allowed border agents to quickly return migrants. At one point that week, the agency held more than 28,000 migrants at border facilities, well beyond capacity.
Both documents include a note reflecting the office’s initial observations and that they had not been “verified and confirmed” according to typical office procedures.
Nearly all of the Laredo mothers who spoke to the researchers said their children had diarrhea.
“Some women noted that their children had not eaten much, if any,” wrote the researchers, who visited the facility May 9-11. “Others noticed that their children had lost weight.”
Some mothers whose children were affected said they believed the diarrhea was the result of getting too much dairy and processed foods at the center.
Investigators informed Border Patrol of the detainee complaints, and the second report said the diarrhea problem in Laredo had been resolved.
The report also detailed overcrowding.
The memo noted that the Laredo facility housed about 2,500 people, despite having a capacity of less than 1,000, and that some housing areas for single men were “very cramped, with sleeping mats directly touching other sleeping mats.” and no space around the sleeping mats.” walk.”
Still, the memo said the facility was “airy, open, and clean, and felt calm and orderly.”
Homeland Security officials offered general comment on the US immigration detention system, but did not provide official answers to specific questions about any of the reports obtained by The Times.
Border Patrol conditions have been under scrutiny for a long time. During the Trump administration, the DHS Office of Inspector General conducted an investigation that found migrants in confined spaces at several facilities — some standing for a week — and without access to showers. Inspectors called it dangerous.
“Senior managers at several facilities expressed concern for the safety of their agents and detainees. For example, one called the situation “a time bomb,” the report said.
In 2021, when a surge in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the border led to overcrowding at border patrol facilities, lawyers for the children said conditions were cramped after conducting interviews with them, according to the Associated Press. . The lawyers said they were not able to visit the facility themselves.
A special monitor who oversees medical care at border facilities said in a January report to a federal court that improvements to medical care were being made inside the facilities and that caregivers were being added at some locations. The monitor’s reports are part of a years-long court agreement that requires the government not hold children and families in custody for more than 72 hours.
The monitor wrote that areas for improvement included the care of unaccompanied children “in isolation stations” and “the regular overcrowding of CBP facilities represents the most far-reaching threat to compliance with the agreement and to the provision of essential CBP services.” child custody. It also underscores CBP’s responsibility to address overcrowding and mitigate its impact on children in custody.”
Conditions inside the border facilities drew scrutiny after the 8-year-old girl died in custody on May 17. CBP officials issued a statement saying a nurse at the agency’s Harlingen station denied requests by the girl’s mother to send her to the hospital or call an ambulance three or four times. The girl’s mother told the Associated Press: “I felt like they didn’t believe me.”
The number of border arrests has dropped in the weeks since Title 42 expired. In early June, DHS said the number of border crossings had dropped by 70% from the high arrest numbers seen in early of May.