A blistering report by the Trump administration’s own watchdog agency is more than enough for Congress to demand answers this week about the treatment of migrants held at the U.S. border. However Americans feel about immigration policy, it’s unimaginable that anyone could think keeping children in dirty clothes, and adults in standing-room only cells, with nothing to eat but cold bologna sandwiches is in keeping with the resources and sense of dignity America should bring to bear in addressing the surge of migrants in the Rio Grande Valley. Congress needs an action plan from this administration and a larger strategy for keeping the crisis from worsening.
The findings by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General were released as House Democrats made their own trips to the border and reported wretched conditions in U.S. detention facilities and a level of hostility from border agents who have mocked migrants and threatened lawmakers on social media. In June, inspectors from the department visited five facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. They found “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention in Border Patrol facilities requiring immediate attention,” noting that children at three of five facilities visited had no access to showers, few spare clothes and no laundry facilities. Many were given sandwiches and snacks for meals, and only wet wipes to tidy up. Some adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week, and at one facility, some adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells. The overcrowding was so severe that when agency inspectors visited, migrants banged on cells and pressed notes to the windows begging for help.
These conditions are unacceptable, and there’s no sign - given the Border Patrol’s tight control over visitors - that matters have improved. Facility managers said the conditions endangered migrants and border agents alike; one called the situation “a ticking time bomb.” The inspector general urged the Department of Homeland Security “to take immediate steps” to correct the situation.
The House Oversight Committee announced hearings for this week into conditions at the detention centers. Administration officials need to detail how they will use the just-passed $4.6-billion border aid package to ease the humanitarian crisis. The vast majority of the funding, or nearly $3 billion, would go to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services. Another $1.3 billion will go to the Department of Homeland Security to improve conditions for feeding and sheltering migrants detained at the border.
The big question is whether this additional money will translate into a cultural shift in how the administration treats those crossing the border and a larger strategy for controlling the migration. In virtually every state, the government would be removing children from households where parents inflicted this same level of neglect. The current approach is failing, and a lack of money isn’t the only excuse.