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Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan defended the conditions at the Border Patrol’s migrant detention centers on Sunday, despite a recent slew of troubling reports on the facilities’ unsafe and unsanitary environments.
“There’s adequate food and water … because I know what our standards are, and I know they’re being followed,” McAleenan, who previously served as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, told ABC’s “This Week.”
The acting DHS chief disputed reports from The New York Times and The Associated Press of a border station in Clint, Texas, where a group of lawyers who visited the facility reported finding a stench from children’s clothes and detained migrants with scabies and chickenpox.
“Inadequate food, inadequate water and unclean cells. None of those have been substantiated,” he said Sunday, despite reports clearly showing the unsafe conditions at the facilities.
The comments came after DHS’s watchdog agency released a report Tuesday warning of severe overcrowding at migrant detention centers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley sector, the busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings. Children in three of the facilities investigators visited in that sector had no access to showers, and some cells were so crowded that adults could not lie down, according to the inspector general’s report.
One official at a Border Patrol facility told investigators that the migrant crisis is a “ticking time bomb.” The report found dangerous conditions similar to those detailed in a May report by the same agency regarding detention centers in Texas’ El Paso sector. That report mentioned overcrowding, migrants needing to stand on toilets to get breathing room, and some wearing soiled clothing for weeks.
The conditions detailed in the reports, which also contain disturbing photos of the overcrowded cells, have heightened debate about President Donald Trump’s immigration policy. The president tweeted Sunday that the poor conditions in facilities should dissuade migrants from coming to the U.S.
McAleenan said Sunday that the migrant crisis is “an extraordinarily challenging situation.”
“Police station cells are not a good place for children, as I’ve said dozens of times,” he told ABC. “We had an overflow situation with hundreds of children crossing every single day.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he is shocked the Trump administration would call the reports unsubstantiated.
“I’m just like, ‘What world are they living in?’” Merkley said. “From every direction you see that the children are being treated in a horrific manner. And there’s an underlying philosophy that it’s OK to treat refugees in this fashion. And that’s really the rot at the core of the administration’s policy.”
Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said his House oversight committee will hold a hearing on the migrant crisis this week. He invited McAleenan and acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan to testify at the hearing.