FREE TO GO?
Federal Inspectors Release Photos to Blast DHS for ‘Dangerous’ Overcrowding at Border Facilities
Republican congressman says migrants in border facilities ‘can leave,’ but a new report by a government watchdog shows conditions are even worse than were known.
A Republican congressman dismissed a constituent’s concerns about the migrant detention crisis during a heated town hall meeting over the weekend, telling her that children being held in squalid conditions in U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities are free to leave whenever they want.
“The people that are there, they can leave,” said Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN), a first-term congressman. “Nobody is holding them against their will—they can leave.”
The remark, which is factually incorrect, was made in response to an impassioned question from a female constituent who said she was “very concerned about family separation at the border,” which she feared was “causing emotional damage” for the thousands of migrant children currently in the custody of U.S. immigration enforcement.
“It’s not ‘government-sponsored child abuse,’” Hagedorn said in response to the question, prompting boos and hisses from the audience at Rochester Community and Technical College on June 28. “These are not concentration camps—no, they’re not.”
Unlike concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Hagedorn elaborated, those in ICE and Border Patrol custody “can leave.”
In most cases, children and adults alike cannot leave immigration detention centers or Border Patrol holding facilities unless they are eligible for—and can pay—bond while their removal proceedings wind through immigration court. Increasingly indiscriminate enforcement by U.S. immigration authorities, a steadily increasing number of migrants seeking refuge and asylum due to political instability in Central America, and a massive backlog in the immigration court system have all contributed to massive overcrowding in detention centers and Border Patrol stations along the U.S.-Mexico border, to the point that children are often being held in such facilities far longer than allowed by federal law.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General illustrated the dire conditions in such facilities with the release of a report warning that inspections of Border Patrol facilities along the U.S. southern border have revealed “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention” of unaccompanied migrant children.
The “dangerous overcrowding,” the OIG wrote, requires “immediate attention”—as do the conditions in the facilities, where children have been held for days without access to showers, laundry facilities, and functioning toilets.
“While all facilities had infant formula, diapers, baby wipes, and juice and snacks for children, we observed that two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals… until the week we arrived,” the OIG report states. Some detainees had become so constipated on a diet composed solely of bologna sandwiches that they required medical attention.
According to the report, nearly half of detainees held at facilities inspected by the OIG had been held longer than the 72 hours permitted under Border Patrol’s standards, with nearly half of those having been held for more than 10 days.
Hagedorn attempted to sidestep the issue of child detention, as well as the conditions in the facilities, telling the audience in Rochester that he favored an “orderly, systemic process” for removal and deportation of undocumented immigrants from the United States. He then asked the woman who posed the question whether she thought there should be limits on entry into the United States.
The woman responded that she was more concerned about “little children that are being held against their will, against their will, on their own, without their parents.”
“They cannot get up leave anytime they want!” the woman said angrily. “How is a three-month-old baby, or a four-year-old, gonna leave a facility like that?”
“Fair enough,” Hagedorn responded.