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Feinstein Calls Out 'Sub-Standard' Conditions At El Centro Border Patrol Facility

July 25, 2018 1:53 p.m.

Feinstein Calls Out 'Sub-Standard' Conditions At El Centro Border Patrol Facility


Michael Bochenek, senior counsel, Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch

Related Story: Feinstein Calls Out 'Sub-Standard' Conditions At El Centro Border Patrol Facility


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

With conditions which include children sleeping on concrete floors and not enough drinking water for detainees. Senator Dianne Feinstein is asking the Trump administration to attend to claims of mistreatment of migrants in DHS facilities. In a letter sent Monday to the head of Homeland Security Feinstein says members of her staff saw substandard conditions for detainees at the El Centro Border Patrol facility the sites that disturbed Senator Feinstein's staff are apparently nothing new to Human Rights Watch. That organization documented similar conditions in a report earlier this year. Joining me by Skype is Michael Bowe Henoch. He's senior counsel for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. He wrote a report titled In the freezer abusive conditions for women and children in U.S. immigration holding cells. And Michael welcome to the program. Thank you. What's your reaction to Dianne Feinstein's letter. Since you've already written about conditions similar to what she's described.

Well unfortunately it's really nothing surprising. When I when I did the research for the report that you just mentioned I talked to women and children who over the course of a year a year and a half describe exactly the same circumstances. The these kinds of abusive conditions have been well documented over the past few years. And when I was most recently in these holding cells in McAllen Texas last month I heard and I saw exactly the same things.

In addition to children sleeping on concrete floors not enough drinking water.

What other kinds of conditions did you see and did you document the first thing that everybody describes to me and the first thing that I myself saw and felt when I was there was that it's very very cold. The air conditioning is set to a level that makes you shiver after a few minutes particularly if you're sitting down and it's even more the case if you have damp clothes wet clothes from water into the river or if you haven't changed clothes in a little while the lights are on 24 hours a day.

And so it's it's very very difficult to get any rest particularly in the kind of overcrowded conditions that I saw. And and because of those overcrowded conditions with 20 30 kids or adults in very very small cells not enough room to stretch your legs out certainly not enough room to lie down and certainly no it wouldn't be a comfortable situation to lie down even if you could do so because what what people consistently described and what I saw were people lying on the cot or sitting on the concrete floor or on concrete benches with no mattresses in most cases only a foil emergency blanket to provide some shelter from the from the from the chill and and and quite a lot of people in these in these facilities coming in and out of the rooms who's in charge of maintaining these facilities. These are border patrol stations these are border patrol holding cells and they are intended to be used for very very short periods of time and so you can you can sort of see from the design that you know they're meant to keep somebody in a cell for a matter of hours before moving them onto a more appropriate facility. CPB the the Border Patrol standards say that they shouldn't be used for more than 72 hours which is already an extreme amount of time for these kinds of conditions. In fact I've talked to people and the senators letter describes people who stayed there for ten days or in the case my interviews even longer.

We should mention that internal inspection reports have found that CPB is in compliance with court ordered standards but there has been legal action filed hasn't there Michael against the government over these conditions.

There's been a series of court cases one that covers facilities in Arizona only. And another one that covers facilities throughout the throughout the southern border. My own reading of these court orders and of and of and of the course of litigation is that the Border Patrol agency has consistently not been in compliance either with its own standards or with the with or with what the court has directed. That is it's been failing to provide a safe and sanitary environment. It has consistently maintains the kinds of conditions that are degrading and dehumanizing. In short it's not it's not it's neither acting in the interests of the people that it that it's holding including children nor is it complying with its own standards.

This has been going on for years. There have been complaints about how immigrants are treated at these detention centres. Michael why do you think this issue is gaining more attention now.

Well I think we have seen quite a lot of attention with the whistleblowing efforts that have come across. We know from audio recordings of of children crying as Border Patrol agents mock them what's been going on the zero tolerance policy has only intensified conditions and has really drawn scrutiny into what appear to be a series of purposeful punitive measures that have nothing to do with immigration enforcement and have more to do with punishing people for perceived wrongdoing. So I think all of the recent developments have drawn far more attention to what's been going on and that's and that's good. I mean it's it's important for people to know what government agencies are doing in the public's name and important for these government agencies and and individual wrongdoers.

Among the officials to be called to account we reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment and have not heard back. I've been speaking with Michael Bell Henoch senior counsel for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. And Michael thank you thank you.