DHS Abruptly Blocks Committee Staff Visits to Border Detention Facilities After Last Week’s Inspections Revealed Serious Problems

Aug 29, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 29, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to Kevin McAleenan, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), objecting to the Department’s decision to block Committee staff from conducting additional visits to detention facilities after the Committee’s visits last week revealed serious problems.

“I am writing to express my deep concern that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to block Committee staff from conducting visits to 11 detention facilities just days after previous staff inspections revealed potentially serious ongoing problems with the treatment of children and adults in DHS custody—including blocking visits to sites where the Inspector General warned about ‘an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained’,” Cummings wrote. 

For example, detainees at Border Patrol facilities expressed concern that toddlers—and in one case even an infant—were being fed burritos rather than age-appropriate food, young children were held in cold rooms without appropriate clothing, and parents were not given a sufficient number of diapers for their children. 

One detainee alleged that a Border Patrol agent told a child who had spilled soup that the child would not receive more food unless the child drank the spilled soup off the floor. 

Detainees at Border Patrol facilities also told Committee staff that they were pressured into signing documents in English without translation and denied access to telephones.

Committee staff visits to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, many of them run by for-profit contractors, also raised troubling questions.

For example, detainees expressed concerns about rotten food and inadequate access to medical care.

Others raised concerns about their treatment in the “voluntary work program,” in which hundreds of detainees provide up to eight hours of work per day doing cleaning, kitchen, laundry, and gardening services, but are paid only $1.00 to $1.50 per day.

Detainees also raised concerns about the length of detention, with some stating they had been held by ICE for more than a year.

“It appears that the Administration expects Congress to be satisfied with receiving agency tours of facilities—in some cases without the ability to photograph conditions or interview detainees—and not to question the policies or decisions that agency officials make.  That is not the way effective oversight works.  Congress has an independent responsibility under the Constitution to determine whether federal programs are operating as they should be—not merely to accept the Administration’s word for it.”

The Committee requested that the Department provide meaningful access to all CBP and ICE facilities identified by Committee staff. 

Click here to read today’s letter.

116th Congress