Migrants are shown being held for processing under the Paso del Norte Bridge in El Paso on March 27. A watchdog said the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center is dangerously overcrowded with some migrants being held in standing-room-only locations for weeks at a time. File Photo by Justin Hamel/UPI | License Photo
May 31 (UPI) -- The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found evidence of "dangerous overcrowding" at a Border Patrol processing facility in El Paso, Texas, a report released Friday indicates.
The watchdog said the overcrowding at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center has led to "standing-room-only conditions" for weeks at the facility. El Paso sector Border Patrol apprehensions from October to April were 98,052, a 619 percent increase over the same time period the year before.
An inspection of the facility revealed that a cell with a maximum capacity of 12 people held 76, one with a maximum capacity of eight held 41 and one with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 people.
"Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks," the inspector general report said.
As some detainees awaited processing outside the facility, many were treated for lice and others were made to surrender backpacks, suitcases and handbags, which were then thrown away due to being a potential "biohazard," the report said.
Customs and Border Protection "was struggling to maintain hygienic conditions in the holding cells," the report said. "With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks."
The report added: "We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets."
The inspector general said it was concerned that overcrowding is dangerous to the health of the migrants as well as Border Patrol agents on-site.
"Border Patrol management at PDT and other sites also raised concerns about employee morale and that conditions were elevating anxiety and affecting employees' personal lives," the report said. "They noted that some employees eligible for retirement had accelerated their retirement dates, while others were considering alternative employment opportunities."
The inspector general report said concerns exist at tensions among the detained migrants could become violent in crowded cells, hallways and common areas.
The watchdog accused DHS of not identifying ways to alleviate the overcrowding problems at the facility. Border Patrol officials said they often are able to process the migrants within a few days, but when they call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to request detention space, they're often told the migrants can't be transferred to ICE custody.
ICE's ability to transport migrants to other locations also is strained, the watchdog said.
In response, DHS said it has constructed a 500-person holding structure at the El Paso facility and plans to construct another by July 31. The department also said it plans to open a centralized processing center within 18 months.