Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions seen at immigrant detention centers


Immigrant youths covered the dirty concrete floors of the Border Patrol holding cells here, sprawled shoulder to shoulder and draped in grubby Red Cross blankets, enveloped in a haze of sweat and body odor.

Groups of girls and boys stared out the windows of their cells, some of the girls holding babies of their own, as agents watched from a central monitoring station. A girl could be seen scrubbing her armpits at the back of the cell.

This 4,900-square-foot detention center near the Mexican border in south Texas was built to house 250, but for the last few months it has been holding twice that, thanks to what U.S. officials say is an unprecedented influx of children and families, most from Central America, hoping for refuge in the United States.

More than 800 of the youngsters are being held at a former warehouse in Nogales, Ariz., now also deployed as a detention center for migrant youths.

Facing growing controversy over reports of crowded and unsanitary conditions, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday provided the first limited public access to the two facilities, allowing reporters on brief, controlled tours for glimpses of children and a few mothers detained there at the end of their often long journeys from places as far away as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In Arizona, most were corralled behind chain-link fences topped with razor wire, huddling for warmth on plastic mats under flimsy metallic Mylar blankets. A television was suspended from the ceiling. Banks of portable toilets served as sanitary facilities. Beside a recreation area, a camouflage tarp had been strung up to shield temporary showers.

In Brownsville, the group included young mothers, many of whom looked exhausted. Some of the children looked dazed or stared blankly from the cells, while others waved and smiled. Many slept.

In Nogales, children clung to the towering chain-link fences around their cells, staring at visitors. Some appeared to have been crying, with swollen and red eyes. Others simply stared.

Immigrant advocates say the latest images of overcrowded cells and dirty floors reinforce their concerns that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ill-prepared for the influx and is not properly safeguarding immigrants rounded up along the border.

“The agency has not been especially consistent in affording access or broad access to these facilities. The lack of oversight and transparency is part of what has allowed these abuses to continue. This current situation is a recipe for abuse of vulnerable children,” said James Lyall, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, calling conditions at the stations “inhumane and inadequate.” [...]


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