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.”
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:
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, Elizabeth Lawrence, Olivia Sanchez for USA TODAY