On Wednesday, Chief Brian S. Hastings of the U.S. Border Patrol said the detention centers at the border are so well-stocked with supplies that their storm rooms “frankly look like Costco,” disputing reports that said the Border Patrol was neglectful in its treatment of migrant children apprehended at the border.
“We’ve increased ... the amount of operational funding we are spending for consumables: diapers, food, formula, all of those things,” said Hastings, at a congressional hearing on the migration at the Southern border. “If you walk into many of our locations on the South West border, including Clint, you will see an area, a storeroom that frankly looks like Costco, where these supplies are available.”
The comments by Hastings, the chief of the law enforcement operations in the U.S. Border Patrol, directly contradicted an AP report quoting attorneys who said they saw unaccompanied minors with “inadequate food, water, and sanitation” at a detention facility in Clint, Texas.
The subsequent media stories which followed the AP report painted a picture of facilities that lack basic infrastructure to serve their children detainees, many of who reportedly have not showered or received fresh clothing in weeks.
Hastings, however, disputed these accounts, saying that the Border Patrol has, in fact, always provided basic necessities to the detained children.
“We are providing those things [soaps and toothbrushes] now, we have been, and we will continue to...We provide three hot meals a day and snacks are unlimited,” said Hastings, who also testified that the Border Patrol has brought in shower facilities and contracted more medical assessments and health care for the detained population.
While Hastings defended at length that Border Patrol provides basic amenities to its detainees, he acknowledged that the facilities are “operating at unprecedented and unsustainable capacities” to deal with the record influx of migrants from Central America. He noted that the Border Patrol facilities — built to house roughly 4,000 individuals — currently holds between 12,000 and 18,000 detainees in custody on any given day.
“Short-term holding facilities at POEs [Point of Entry] and Border Patrol stations were designed neither for the large volume of inadmissible persons and apprehensions nor the long-term custody of individuals,” Hastings said.
Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), shot back at Hasting’s portrayal of the border situation noting that there is a “huge disconnect between your testimony and what we are getting from reports from those facilities.” The chief questioned the accuracy of media reports for relying on testimonies provided by “attorneys who have a case against the government.”
The attorneys who talked to the press are part of the team monitoring the enforcement of the Flores Agreement, which mandates the Border Patrol to transfer children within 72 hours to the HHS, which in turn will place the child with an appropriate caretaker — usually, a relative — until their immigration case can be processed.
However, the record influx of migrants from Central American countries have overwhelmed the Border Patrol’s ability to process the minors — the chief reported that the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 593,000 individuals at the end of May, a number that exceeds the full fiscal year totals for the previous ten years.
As a result, even with 40 to 60 percent of agents taken away from the border to provide humanitarian assistance to the detained families and minors, Border Patrol still cannot process the children and hand them over to the HHS within 72 hours, leaving the children for long periods of time in overpacked Border Patrol facilities built for a handful of detainees.
While some outlets reported that the guards in the facilities are mistreating the detainees, the chief said Border Patrol agents are responding to the situation with “humane professionalism,” paying out of their own pockets to accommodate the minors even as they deal with the rapid migrant influx.
“I have seen agents, on their own, go out and purchase toys [to] bring in for the children to play with. I have personally bought meals for those who I have arrested, I’ve seen agents do the same thing,” Hastings said. “I’ve seen the humane professionalism and the outstanding work by our agents since I’ve been in this agency and long before that.”
Hastings, however, said that fundamental structural reform to the system is necessary to alleviate the crisis. He noted that, in the short term, the responsible agencies need more funding to accommodate the migrants, while in the long term, Congress must erode the “vulnerabilities in our legal framework that have become well-known to smugglers” to discourage illegal entry into the country.
The two branches of Congress each passed a bill to provide billions in emergency funding for humanitarian assistance to the detainees — a bipartisan Senate bill, and a House legislation mostly backed by the Democrats. The White House had threatened to veto the House bill, saying it will restrict their border security efforts; the House leadership meanwhile believes the Senate bill does not go far enough in securing accommodations for the migrants.
At the testimony, several Republican senators rebuked Democrats for using the humanitarian crisis for partisan objectives, including undermining the Trump presidency.
“My Democratic colleagues are trying to identify children that are not getting care, at the same time, slowing down the process of getting humanitarian aid to try to hurt the presidential election,” Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. “These kids are not pawns.”