Incoming CBP chief denies "systemic problem" at migrant detention facilities

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

The current head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and incoming chief of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pushed back against internal and external criticism about conditions in detention centers for migrants, saying he does not believe ICE, which has come under severe scrutiny from immigrant advocates and Democrats, is facing a "systemic problem."

In an exclusive interview with CBS News Tuesday, acting ICE director Mark Morgan was asked about a report released earlier this month by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General which found that four ICE detention facilities had "egregious violations" of standards for detaining migrants. Among other issues, the office said the facilities had restrictive segregation, poor medical care and "significant" food shortages.

Morgan, however, took issue with the word "egregious." "I just don't agree that it's egregious conditions, like a systemic problem," he told CBS News chief justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues.

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Morgan, who served as Border Patrol chief during the Obama administration, is set to leave his post at ICE to replace acting CBP commissioner John Sanders, who is slated to step down in the coming weeks, according to a senior administration official. Morgan's interview with CBS News came just hours before he was said to be taking over the CBP job.

The ICE chief conceded his agency is "always" facing challenges, particularly when it comes to detention space for migrants. He said he agency has taken custody of more than 400,000 migrants this year alone, as a months-long unprecedented surge of Central American families heading towards the U.S.-Mexico has overwhelmed U.S. officials.

"Are there issues that we can improve and get better? Absolutely," he added. "That's why I welcome the [inspector general]. I welcome non-governmental organizations to come in and do a check and balance. We should always try to get better but to say that it's a systemic, egregious problem across the board, that's just not true and the facts don't support that."

Border Patrol — which like ICE, is also part of DHS — has come under heavy criticism from independent monitors for harsh conditions in detention centers housing unaccompanied migrant minors, who are supposed to be taken care of by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours of their detention by border agents.

Morgan signaled that Border Patrol will continue to confront these problems until Congress approves the multi-billion-dollar emergency funding the Trump administration has requested to deal with the large-scale migration from Central America. The Republican-led Senate has already signed off on the package, but Democrats are splintered over allocating funds to certain border enforcement operations.

"We've been asking Congress for a very long long time. Border Patrol is not a place for the kids," he said. "We I think every American could agree with that. They are overcrowded, those border control stations are not designed for kids."

Watch more of the interview with Morgan on the "CBS Evening News" on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

First published on June 25, 2019 / 3:19 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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