The Humanitarian Crisis in Our Midst

July 16, 2019

Dear Friend,

In detention facilities across the U.S.-Mexico border, refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants – including infants and children – are being held in overcrowded and dangerous conditions. I encourage you to review the report recently prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General.

Last week, I traveled to southeast Texas to see these facilities firsthand.

I came away with renewed conviction that DHS must take immediate steps to drastically improve the treatment of detainees, which right now is far from humane. What we witnessed at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations and detention centers was jarring. Dozens of adult, single men crammed for weeks into holding cells that were designed to hold only a few detainees for a short period of time. Hundreds fenced into areas with bright, 24-hour lights and not enough room to sleep. Lack of regular access to basic hygiene such as toothbrushes and showers. We saw unaccompanied minors and families warehoused in chain-link pods, waiting for days on end to have their fate determined by a broken immigration system that treats them with a hard edge and a punitive impulse.


A holding cage at McAllen Border Patrol Station with hundreds of detainees. Mylar blankets are covering men sleeping under bright lights. There isn’t enough room for everyone to sleep at the same time.


Holding cells at the McAllen Border Patrol Station with migrant adult men who have crossed into the United States illegally. For some migrants, this “detention” lasts weeks, not days as it should. These migrants are not being sent to the next stage of the process – Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities that can accommodate them for longer periods of time pending adjudication – because ICE is over capacity. These detainees are living for weeks in cells that are only meant for 72-hour holding.


At the McAllen Centralized Processing Center known as “Ursula,” we encountered families and unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border seeking refuge and asylum. Again, many are being detained for longer than appropriate periods of time because the Office of Refugee Resettlement is not able to accommodate them, as is meant to happen.


Newly arrived migrant children at Ursula being brought into holding pens.


For a full accounting of what we saw, see here.

The Trump Administration’s failure to establish a humane and orderly process for managing the influx of new migrants from Central America is creating havoc at our southern border. There is no excuse for the shocking conditions we are seeing in many facilities. Even the shameful policy of separating children from their parents has yet to be completely resolved.  

Our nation has the capability and resources to fix this problem, if only we would muster the will. In Congress, I will continue using our oversight authority to apply pressure on the Administration to dramatically improve the treatment of migrants. At the same time, I will work closely with my colleagues to advance policies that help stem this crisis and ensure that all refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in government custody receive humane and compassionate care.



Congressman John Sarbanes
Maryland’s Third Congressional District