Con­gress­woman de­scribes hor­ri­ble con­di­tions at mi­grant cen­ter

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily Cadei MCCLATCHY WASH­ING­TON BUREAU

WASH­ING­TON — Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Doris Mat­sui con­firmed some of the worst ac­counts of the bor­der pa­trol cen­ters hous­ing mi­grant men, women and chil­dren who’ve crossed over the south­ern bor­der, after vis­it­ing two fa­cil­i­ties in Texas last week­end.

“It was just re­ally kind of sur­pris­ing in a way you can’t steel your­selves for,” Mat­sui, a Demo­crat in her 9th term in Congress, told McClatchy in an in­ter­view. “In some cases it felt like a third world coun­try on our side of the bor­der.”

Mat­sui and a del­e­ga­tion of 19 other Demo­cratic House mem­bers trav­eled to McAllen and Brownsvill­e, Texas to visit Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol pro­cess­ing cen­ters as well as hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing with mi­grants seek­ing asy­lum in the United States. Mat­sui was born into a U.S. in­tern­ment camp for Ja­pa­nese-Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War II. Her late hus­band, the for­mer Con­gress­man Bob Mat­sui, was also placed in one of the camps as a small child.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s Inspector Gen­eral re­leased a re­port ear­lier this month that de­tailed “se­ri­ous” overcrowdi­ng and squalid con­di­tions in bor­der pa­trol pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties in South Texas.

Among other things, Mat­sui said she saw chil­dren lined up in­side of con­crete cages, wait­ing to pick up a mat to rest on. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol told the mem­bers of Congress “they need the con­crete cages for se­cu­rity,” she said.

“It was cold, they said they needed to keep it cold be­cause of the smells and things like that,” Mat­sui added. “And also they keep the lights on all the time.”

The Demo­cratic con­gress­woman said it was clear the bor­der pa­trol agents “were not equipped” to han­dle the in­flux of mi­grants com­ing over the bor­der, pri­mar­ily fam­i­lies from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

The pro­cess­ing cen­ters are meant as tem­po­rary hold­ing places for the mi­grants, who are then re­leased to lo­cal fam­ily or friends, turned over to long-term fa­cil­i­ties man­aged by the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, or sent back to their home coun­try.

But the sheer num­bers of peo­ple com­ing from Cen­tral Amer­ica has over­whelmed the ex­ist­ing sys­tem, caus­ing lengthy de­lays in pro­cess­ing mi­grants and keep­ing them de­tained in Bor­der Pa­trol fa­cil­i­ties not de­signed for such long-term res­i­dents.

Act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kevin McAleenan tes­ti­fied be­fore a House com­mit­tee Thurs­day that while the num­ber of peo­ple at­tempt­ing to cross the bor­der is fall­ing, “the bor­der flows and cus­tody sit­u­a­tion re­main be­yond cri­sis level.”

“We are still see­ing 2,500 cross­ing a day, mostly fam­i­lies,” McAleenan added.

The bor­der pa­trol fa­cil­i­ties Mat­sui vis­ited “just did not have the in­di­vid­u­als there to care for the peo­ple,” she told McClatchy. Agents there told the vis­it­ing mem­bers of Congress that they were some­times forced to change the youngest de­tainees’ diapers overnight, when con­tract staff and nurses are not on the premises.

DE­PART­MENT OF HOME­LAND SE­CU­RITY OF­FICE OF THE INSPECTOR GEN­ERAL

The Inspector Gen­eral at the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity ob­served overcrowdi­ng of fam­i­lies on June 10 at a de­ten­tion cen­ter in McAllen, Texas.

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