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Federal investigators reported unsafe housing, inadequate medical staff, and violations of several health standards at an immigration detention center in Texas, the latest round of scrutiny for such facilities.
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is poised to release the findings Monday after officials visited the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, last year. According to the report, obtained exclusively by Bloomberg Government, Port Isabel fell short of standards for detainee segregation, reporting on use of force, and Covid-19 protections.
“These living conditions not only violated detention standards and detainee rights, but also posed health and safety risks to detainees,” the report says.
The stark critique comes as Republican lawmakers concerned about illegal border crossings push to increase the number of immigrants held in detention facilities. The Biden administration, dealing with record numbers of migrant encounters at the US-Mexico border, has opted to release tens of thousands of border-crossers into the US with electronic monitoring and check-in requirements.
Congress has provided small funding increases in recent years for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which owns the Port Isabel center, and kept detention capacity flat at Trump-era levels.
Rust and Clogged Toilets
The DHS inspector general’s office has clashed with department officials over previous reviews of detention facilities. Last year, agency officials accused the office of staging photos and ignoring facts “to achieve preconceived conclusions” when the inspector general called for relocating all detainees in a New Mexico facility deemed critically understaffed.
The most recent report includes pictures of leaking substances on Port Isabel floors, rust, damaged mattresses, and clogged toilets. It said many of the facility problems were quickly fixed during the inspector general office’s three-day inspection.
The report also faulted the facility for not having enough medical staff to meet the needs of its minimum capacity of 800 detainees, or its cap of 1,200—though it acknowledged the staffing was sufficient for the more than 500 current detainees.
The report recommends ICE improve facility conditions, ensure compliance with Covid-19 mask and social distancing protocols, and improve processes for filing grievances. ICE concurred with all but one of the recommendations: that it discontinue use of the “dilapidated” building where detainees are held in segregation from others for administrative or disciplinary reasons.
ICE said a new building is under construction but has faced delays, and the agency has improved the safety of the current building in the meantime. The inspector general’s office rejected the argument, saying the improvements predated the inspection, meaning the current facility was still unsuitable.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org