BREAKING: Migrants in CBP Custody Speak About Their Conditions in Open-Air Detention Sites in California in a New Report by U.S. Immigration Policy Center

SOUTHERN BORDER — Today, the U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at the University of California San Diego released a new report, Lives in Danger: Seeking Asylum Against the Backdrop of Increased Border Enforcement. The report details the results of a survey of migrants held by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in open-air detention sites for up to five days in Jacumba, California. 

Jacumba is about 75 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, where migrants in San Diego were previously held in an open-air corridor in deplorable conditions, prompting SBCC to file a complaint over the weekend. Although CBP responded by processing everyone in the corridor in San Diego, at least for now, migrants in Jacumba are still stuck in conditions that violate custody standards and basic human rights. The USIPC report elevates the voices of migrants and provides a methodical understanding of their condition in CBP custody. 

USIPC conducted the survey of migrants in one of the encampments in Jacumba on Saturday, May 15, 2023. The area is buttressed to the south by border fencing and surrounded on all other sides by Border Patrol. The survey took the form of 15 structured interviews using a stratified random sample as people waited in line for aid distribution. In those interviews, USIPC found the following:

  • 100% of migrants believed they were detained, and most believed that if they tried to leave, they would be arrested or would die in the desert. 
  • 100% said border agents were not giving them enough food and 53% said they were not giving them enough water for the day.
  • 100% said border agents were not providing adequate sanitation, such as toilets, and 47% said there were not adequate trash cans or waste removal. 
  • 100% said agents were not providing adequate shelter, like protection from the sun, and 93% said agents had not provided blankets to keep warm at night. 

Additionally, migrants were asked a question to determine their reliance on volunteers. Two-thirds (67%) of the migrants agreed with the statement, “If I did not receive food and water from volunteers, I would not get enough food and water from Border Patrol to survive.” This is troubling, given that Border Patrol agents regulate access to the migrants, and over the last week have not always given access to volunteers to provide life-sustaining supplies. 

USIPC also surveyed migrants on their purpose in coming and asked them demographic information. In the sample of migrants they spoke with, all of them (100%) stated that they sought asylum. The large majority (80%) had never heard of the CBP One app that the Department of Homeland Security is now requiring asylum seekers to use before entering or they will be disqualified. Those who knew about the app were unable to schedule appointments because the app did not work, they did not have strong enough wifi, or they did not have access to any internet at all. 

The average age of the asylum seekers that USIPC interviewed was 29 years old. Just over half were male (56%) and just under half were female (44%). The majority were from Colombia, followed by India, then Peru. Just under half have family in the United States and approximately one-third were traveling with minor children. Some of the migrants had been at the open-air detention site for five days.

The survey corroborates the conditions reported from human rights observers at multiple open-air detention sites in California that CBP is using as pre-processing sites without complying with custody standards. As stated in the complaint filed by SBCC over the weekend, if CBP detains people in its custody, then it must provide for adequate water, food, shelter, sanitation and medical supplies. That is not happening at any site in California. 

SBCC reiterates its call for CBP to comply with custody standards at all times and protect human rights, everywhere along the border. 

Read the full USIPC report here.



The U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at UC San Diego conducts and supports rigorous social science research to advance understanding of the foundations and consequences of U.S. immigration policy. The USIPC brings together leading academics, policy analysts, immigrant-rights leaders, and policymakers across all levels of government to conceptualize, debate, and design a new U.S. immigration policy agenda that meets the demands of the 21st century.  


The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together organizations from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.



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