Congressional Delegation Finds Appalling Conditions at Border; Another Death After Detention by ICE

[Content Note: Nativism; abuse; death.]

Yesterday, a Congressional delegation that included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Joaquin Castro (presidential candidate Julián's twin brother), traveled to Texas to visit two CBP facilities. Although they were told they were not allowed to bring in cameras, Castro managed to sneak one in, and then reported back on Twitter what they saw.
Our border patrol system is broken. And part of the reason it stays broken is because it's kept secret. The American people must see what is being carried out in their name. The Hispanic Caucus led a delegation of members of Congress to visit 2 border patrol facilities.

Here's what we found:

At the El Paso Border Patrol Station #1, women from Cuba, some grandmothers, crammed into a prison-like cell with one toilet, but no running water to drink from or wash their hands with. Concrete floors, cinder-block walls, steel toilets.

Many said they had not bathed for 15 days. Some had been separated from children, some had been held for more than 50 days. Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy. Members of Congress comforted them when the women broke down.

They asked us to take down their names and let everyone know they need help. They also feared retribution. We then went to the Clint Border Patrol Station that warehouses children and some parents.

The tents outside, used during the surge recently, were dark and surrounded by chain link fences. The showers — mobile units — were dank, dirty, and only too small in number for the hundreds of people there just a few weeks ago.

And a boy, perhaps three years old, pressed his face against the dirty glass of a locked steel door. He smiled big and tried to talk to us through the thick glass. His family — or another — ate Ramen on the floor a few feet away.

There are many good agents — men and women working earnestly to care for the people in their custody. But they are overwhelmed in a system that is morally bankrupt and challenged by rogue agents whose culture was on full display in the Facebook group revealed by ProPublica today.

The showers at Clint Border Patrol Station. [video at link]

This moment captures what it's like for women in CBP custody to share a cramped cell — some held for 50 days — for them to be denied showers for up to 15 days and life-saving medication. For some, it also means being separated from their children. This is El Paso Border Station #1. [video at link]
Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted about what she saw, including this chilling observation: "Officers were keeping women in cells with no water and had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress."

My representative, Rep. Madeleine Dean, tweeted after leaving the facility: "The conditions are far worse than we ever could have imagined. 15 women in their 50s-60s sleeping in a small concrete cell, no running water. Weeks without showers. All of them separated from their families. This is a human rights crisis."

And Rep. Joe Kennedy tweeted about how difficult it was for the Congressional delegation even to get as much information as they did: "CBP was very resistant to Congressional oversight. They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video. Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative."

Nevertheless, overhead Reuters photos of the McAllen Station taken in May show the extent of the horror at CBP's concentration camps:

It is no wonder that people detained in the camps are becoming ill, and, in some cases, even dying.

At BuzzFeed, Hamed Aleaziz reports on a 30-year-old Honduran man who died in federal immigration custody:
The death of Yimi Alexis Balderramos-Torres, first reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday morning, is the sixth in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since October. Hours after the report, congressional staffers were informed by ICE officials of the man's death. Six hours after the initial BuzzFeed News report, ICE officials confirmed the death in a press release.

Balderramos-Torres had previously been apprehended by immigration officials in El Paso, Texas, on May 17, according to a statement released by ICE. The man was accompanied by his son when he was encountered by Border Patrol on May 17, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Balderramos-Torres had been sent back to Mexico under a Trump administration program that requires Central American immigrants to wait outside the U.S. as their asylum cases make their way through the immigration courts. More than 15,000 individuals have been sent back to Mexico through the program, according to statistics released by the Mexican government. Last week, a group of asylum officers urged a federal appeals court to block the program, calling it "contrary to the moral fabric of our nation."

On May 27, Balderramos-Torres again crossed the border without authorization and was picked up by local police in the U.S. during a traffic stop. He was placed in ICE custody June 6, according to the authorities. Because he had previously been arrested by Border Patrol and deported in 2013, ICE officials "reinstated" his previous deportation order and kept him in custody pending his future removal to Honduras, they said.

Nearly two weeks later, on June 18, he was transferred to the Houston Contract Detention Facility in Houston.

On June 30, Balderramos-Torres was found "unresponsive," and medical officials at the facility were unable to revive him. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead Sunday morning. A cause of death is pending as officials conduct an autopsy.
Note that ICE did not notify Congress, as required by law, or the public about Balderramos-Torres' death until BuzzFeed reported it. We have no idea how many deaths have actually happened in their custody, because we cannot trust that they are reporting them unless obliged by the press to do so.

You know what to do: MAKE LOTS OF NOISE. If you are in the U.S., contact your senators and reps. If you are outside the U.S., contact your government and ask them to put pressure on the Trump administration to close the camps and abide by international law governing refugees. Write letters to the editor. Share this piece and/or others on social media. Talk to anyone who will listen about what's happening. RESIST.

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