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Homeland Security head rejects report of disease outbreaks at Clint border facility

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan pushed back Sunday on a New York Times report detailing outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox among the children being held at the U.S. Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” McAleenan called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” but said he’s “not denying that there are challenging situations at the border.”

He also said he did not accept reports of unsanitary conditions and limited food and water at multiple border stations in Texas, again calling the situation at the border “extraordinarily challenging.”

“We have no evidence that children went hungry,” McAleenan told “This Week.” “Police station cells are not a good place for children, as I’ve said dozens of times.”

“We had an overflow situation with hundreds of children crossing every single day,” he added.

Acting DHS Sec. Kevin McAleenan responds to reports of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions at CBP holding facilities: “It’s an extraordinarily challenging situation… we’ve been talking about this, we’ve been asking for help.”

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) July 7, 2019 McAleenan, who previously served as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the agency has taken protective measures including building temporary processing facilities and ramping up medical staff. He also said the agency even overspent on such measures, hoping Congress would later provide the supplemental funds.

President Donald Trump recently signed off on a new funding measure, primarily for migrant detention and child care. Trump has praised Border Patrol agents and said the poor conditions in facilities should deter people from trying to enter the U.S.

“If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” Trump wrote on Twitter this week.

For months, McAleenan has raised alarms about the potential for disastrous conditions on the southern border while maintaining his agency has upheld government standards for housing detainees, despite evidence to the contrary. He said on Sunday that the food and water at the facility in Clint that has faced scrutiny were “adequate” and that migrants in holding centers had access to showers and clean living quarters.

“I’m not denying that there are challenging situations at the border, I’ve been the one talking about it the most,” McAleenan said.

He said Homeland Security has reduced the number of children in their custody from 2,500 at the beginning of June to 350 children as of Saturday. McAleenan said the new funding to shelters run by Health and Human Services allowed them to move minors through the system more quickly, connecting them with case workers who will find approved sponsors to care for them upon release.

His remarks on Sunday cap another tumultuous week for Homeland Security as the agency has grappled with government watchdog reports of overcrowded and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol stations in the southwest.

Conditions were so severe at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley that one CBP manager described it to federal investigators as a “ticking time bomb” in the report made public this past week.

Government oversight authorities found that hundreds of children had been held in CBP custody well beyond the legal limit of 72 hours and most of them did not have access to showers or a change of clothes.

McAleenan was also asked about the discovery of a second CPB-connected secret Facebook group that featured mocking images and vulgar and sexually explicit posts.

The roughly 1,000-member group — called “The Real CBP Nation” — was found to host to an image that mocks separating migrant families, multiple demeaning images of New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other mocking photos of minorities.

McAleenan said Sunday he wasn’t previously aware of the group, but that he was “made aware that we had an allegation in 2016 that was investigated, followed up on and discipline was metered out.” He said that “several agents” have been placed on “administrative duties” and that an investigation is ongoing.

“This investigation is continuing and the agents will be held accountable if they’re CBP employees who did inappropriate things,” he said. “I don’t think it’s reflective of the men and women we have.”

When asked about immigration raids by ICE — an operation that President Donald Trump said his administration would launch sometime after the Fourth of July, McAleenan said they were part of a “balance enforcement process.”

“You can’t do this all at the border. That’s why I’ve been going down to Central America to work on the origins of this crisis and address the human smugglers that are incentivizing and inviting people into this dangerous cycle in the first place,” McAleenan said. “That’s why we’re enhancing our border security, that’s why we’ve asked Congress to change the laws, but it’s also why we need to do interior enforcement.”

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