- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2019

Homeland Security’s inspector general said Friday that “dangerous overcrowding” is out of control for illegal immigrants kept in Border Patrol facilities along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.

Migrants are being held in “standing-room-only conditions” for days or even weeks, and in some cases have far exceeded legal limits on how long they can be kept, investigators found during unannounced site visits.

The investigation warned of potential clashes or riots, saying that “rising tensions among detainees could turn violent.”

And the dangers extend to the Border Patrol agents themselves, who have “a high incidence of illness” after contact with the massive number of migrants surging into the U.S.

The crush is also causing some agents to speed up their retirement or look for other jobs, with reports of job-related anxiety rising.

The inspector general’s alert, dated Thursday, comes as Congress is in the middle of debating President Trump’s $4.5 billion request for emergency money to address overcrowding and other inhumane conditions.

Democrats blocked Republicans’ efforts to add the money to the current disaster relief bill that is pending in the House.

Commenting on the report Friday, Sen. Richard Durbin, a key Democrat on immigration issues, said the solution is a “comprehensive” immigration bill — a term of art in Washington that refers to legislation legalizing illegal immigrants, as well as overhauling the legal immigration system.

The Trump administration and Republican allies say the solution to the immediate problem is much more narrow and urgent.

They say the money is critical to providing better care for the migrants at the border. Then they call for changes to the law to eliminate loopholes that entice illegal immigrants to make the journey in the first place.

Democrats counter that those changes could keep some desperate asylum-seekers from reaching safety in the U.S.

That impasse means things continue to spiral out of control.

In one visit investigators watched agents triage a large group of migrants at a facility.

One group of 75 people was being treated for lice, while hundreds of parents and children waited in a tent to be fingerprinted and to have a criminal check performed.

“We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” wrote acting Inspector General John Kelly. “Border Patrol agents said detainees who were not ill were raising medical complaints to obtain temporary release from the cells, adding to the medical staff’s burden.”

Solutions are tough to come by, the inspector general said.

Customs and Border Protection facilities are supposed to be for brief holds. Illegal immigrants are generally supposed to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for longer detention.

But ICE is already beyond capacity, and Democrats have resisted Mr. Trump’s request for more money to alleviate that condition.

The quickest answer is catch-and-release, meaning the migrants are processed and turned loose into local communities, on the often-vain hope they’ll show up for their deportation hearings.

But even there, Border Patrol officials say with more than 4,000 people crossing each day, the numbers are so overwhelming that they’re unable to fingerprint and process people quickly enough to release them.

One option CBP had pondered was to fly or bus migrants to other facilities on the northern border of Florida. But a public outcry scuttled that plan.

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