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Immigrant detention centers: What to know about the outrage at the border

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited a migrant detention facility

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited a migrant detention facility on Monday with the Hispanic Caucus. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Christian Chavez

Outrage has flowed beyond the Rio Grande Valley over conditions at migrant detention centers there.

The public outcry was sparked by Tuesday’s release of a government watchdog report detailing overcrowding and other unhealthy conditions at five short-term migrant holding centers in Texas, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Many of the migrants being detained at the facilities after being apprehended at the United States-Mexico border come from Central and South America.

The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security described a “dangerous” number of migrants at the centers and called on the agency to address the issues.

New Yorkers poured into the streets on Tuesday to call for the centers’ immediate closure during protests in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Here’s what you need to know about the response to the report.

What is prompting the outrage?

The report detailed conditions at the facilities that The New York Times described as “squalid.”

Children at most of the detention centers had no access to showers with sparse change of clothes. Two facilities only gave children hot meals when inspectors arrived.

Adults stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a standing-room-only cell in McAllen, Texas, one of multiple cells photographed bearing similar conditions.

BuzzFeed News had first reported on the conditions in late June based on a draft report by the watchdog. Congressional members have been abuzz with the claims since, prompting some, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), to visit the facilities.

What have NY lawmakers said about the detention centers?

Ocasio-Cortez called the facilities “concentration camps” in a tweet on Tuesday.

"It’s not just the kids. It’s everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members Congress," she said in another tweet decrying the state of the facilities.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a series of tweets on Wednesday, described a "toxic culture" at Customs and Border Protection that needs to end by firing the agency's leadership.

"The horrid conditions @CBP has subjected children and families to at the border are nothing short of inhumane and downright inexcusable," he tweeted.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called the situation a "humanitarian crisis" in a tweet on Tuesday and retweeted NBC Politics to show photos of jam-packed migrant facilities.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) vowed for accountability in a tweet on Wednesday: "We will not be silenced. We will not stop fighting."

What does the Trump administration have to do with it?

President Donald Trump has pledged to rid the country of what he has dubbed a “catch-and-release” practice that allows migrants who claim asylum to stay in the United States while their claim is processed by immigration courts.

"If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come," he tweeted on Wednesday. "All problems solved!"

There have been sweeping increases in the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants apprehended at the border since last October, according to the watchdog report, with families representing a 269% jump.

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