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The Times obtains Homeland Security memos showing dismal border facility conditions

A Central American immigrant stands at the U.S.-Mexico border fence after crossing into Texas
A Central American immigrant stands at the U.S.-Mexico border fence after crossing into Texas in 2018 near Mission, Texas.
(John Moore / Getty Images)
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I’m Hamed Aleaziz and I cover immigration for the Los Angeles Times. This week, we’re going to discuss conditions at border detention facilities.

In early May, as the country watched the end of a Trump-era border policy, Title 42, come down, government officials struggled to handle a massive increase in arrests. The numbers of migrants in custody skyrocketed to 28,000 — above capacity.

As the arrests shot up and detention numbers followed, I wondered what the conditions within the government facilities looked like. Past increases in detention numbers usually meant that conditions within the facilities suffered and overcrowding followed.

The reports

Little did we know that government officials from the under-the-radar Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman were visiting border facilities to witness conditions and write them up for Department of Homeland Security leadership. These raw reports, which The Times obtained, provide readers with vivid descriptions of what officials heard and witnessed when they visited.

The two memos paint a picture of conditions last month: In one instance, mothers at a Laredo, Texas, border facility said that their children had diarrhea and some were cleaning their kids’ pants in the sink because they couldn’t get new clothes. Elsewhere, officials at a separate facility in Donna complained about overuse of hospitalization.

The oversight office wrote that “it appears that the problems with medical care at Donna are costing CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] and the main contractor … valuable staff time. CBP reported to me that they have had as many as 12 agents at the hospital at once.”

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The complaints continued: OIDO officials also were told that a boy with third-degree burns was treated on location with creams. He was later sent to a burn center.

Border conditions came into the spotlight during the Trump administration in 2019, when the department’s inspector general’s office found overcrowding and lack of access to showers.

The future at the border

The most recent reports show how government investigators continue to track alleged problems in these facilities.

The numbers of migrants in DHS facilities went down after the high numbers at the beginning of May, as border crossings dipped.

The Biden administration, however, faces legal battles that could change the dynamic at the border. In California, the government must contend with a lawsuit that could block a recently imposed restriction on asylum and in Texas, it faces a challenge that could stop a program that allows migrants from certain countries an opportunity to legally enter the U.S.

Any uptick in numbers could once again put a strain on the facilities along the southern border.

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The latest from Washington

— “The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action policies at colleges and universities that use race as a factor in deciding who is admitted,” Times reporter David G. Savage wrote Thursday. “In dissent, liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson accused the majority of ignoring America’s history as well as continuing racism today. ‘Our country has never been colorblind,’ Jackson wrote.”

— Savage also put together key quotes and passages from the Supreme Court’s monumental Thursday opinion on affirmative action. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion. “They have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice,” Roberts said.

— “Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is recovering from a serious shingles infection, is spending the Senate’s two-week Fourth of July recess in Washington,” Times politics reporting intern Owen Tucker-Smith wrote Thursday.

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The latest from California

— Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling reverberated in California. It “intensified angst among many higher-education leaders who say extending access to a diversity of students could become a challenging, high-cost and labor-intensive effort steeped in uncertainties,” wrote Times reporters Teresa Watanabe and Debbie Truong.

— “After two years of deliberations, California’s Reparations Task Force on Thursday is sending its final report and recommendations to the state Capitol, where Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers will ultimately decide how the state should atone for slavery,” Times reporter Taryn Luna wrote.

— Watanabe and fellow reporter Howard Blume wrote about a series of misunderstandings about affirmative action. “In reality, experts say, most institutions accept most students who apply — which means they don’t need to use race as a factor to apportion seats. Rather, they mostly look at grades and transcripts to evaluate whether the applicants have a good chance of succeeding, experts said.”

— “Thousands of Southern California hotel workers are poised to go on strike if a deal isn’t reached by midnight Friday, threatening to upend the region’s tourism industry,” wrote Times reporters Julia Wick, David Zahniser and Ruben Vives.

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