Chilling first-hand reports of migrant detention centers highlight smell of 'urine, feces,' overcrowded conditions

James Sergent, Elinor Aspegren, Elizabeth Lawrence and Olivia Sanchez

The country is embroiled in a furious debate over the conditions of U.S. immigration detention facilities, as violence and poverty in Central America sends many refugees and migrants northward. 

So far in 2019, Border Patrol agents have taken roughly 600,000 migrants into custody. Seven children have died in U.S. custody since last year.

A reporter traveling with Vice President Mike Pence during a recent tour of an all-male detention center in Texas described a horrendous stench and said nearly 400 men were housed in sweltering cages so crowded it would have been impossible for all of them to lie down. The Border Patrol supervisor who gave Pence the tour admitted that the men in custody hadn’t taken a shower in 10 to 20 days.

After his visit, Pence said: "It was frankly heartbreaking, as parents, to talk to young children who told us of having walked two and three months ... to cross into our country." 

He also defended the facilities: "Every family that I spoke with told me they were being well cared for."

Many media reports, including the USA TODAY Network's El Paso Times, have described conditions at the detention facilities as nightmarish.

President Donald Trump has said media accounts of the detention centers are "exaggerated" and that they are "beautifully run" and "clean." "Great reviews!" he tweeted.

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector-General, however, called the overcrowded conditions “a ticking time bomb."

Here, USA TODAY has assembled accounts only from the government's own reports as well as that of pediatricians who have toured border facilities first-hand: 

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Security personal stand before shoes and toys left at the Tornillo (Texas) Port of Entry where minors crossing the border without proper papers have been housed after being separated from.

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Unsanitary bathrooms this spring: a shower stall with mold, mildew, and peeling paint; an overflowing toilet; and a moldy broken toilet.

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Food concerns in 2018: Open packaged raw meat and other food items leaking blood, not relabeled and not properly stored.

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Eighty-eight men crowd into a cell with a maximum capacity of 41 on June 12 at the Border Patrol's Fort Brown Station. Some of the men signal their prolonged detention to OIG staff.

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Overcrowding on June 11 at the Border Patrol’s McAllen, Texas, Centralized Processing Center observed by Office of Inspector General staff.

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks to immigrants after taking them into custody on July 02, 2019, in Los Ebanos, Texas. Hundreds of immigrants, most from Central America, turned themselves in to border agents after rafting across the Rio Grande from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Border detention center reports say facilities not safe for children