WASHINGTON – Lawmakers described how migrant women were being held in a cell with no running water and told by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to drink out of toilet at a Texas detention center amid widespread concerns about deplorable conditions.
More than a dozen House members visited facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas — a trip that came on the same day as a news report that Border Patrol agents made vile posts that threatened lawmakers in a secret Facebook group and discussed throwing burritos at the congressional visitors.
The report angered members of the House who condemned the posts as “truly abhorrent and shameful.” Customs and Border Protection notified the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security about the Facebook posts and said an investigation had been initiated.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus organized the trip after conditions at the Border Patrol station in Clint prompted an outcry last month, with lawyers who visited the facility describing scenes of sick and dirty children without their parents and inconsolable toddlers in the care of other children.
After touring the detention centers, the group struggled to be heard at a news conference, confronted by protesters who shouted at them: “Build a wall; deport ‘em all — that’s the way we get rid of this problem!”
“Today we came and we saw that the system is still broken,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus. “These are the conditions that have been created by the Trump administration. … This is not just about more money for Border Patrol and for the Department of Homeland Security.”
Several lawmakers said after their first stop that the El Paso facility appeared to have emptied out. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents the area, said about 200 asylum-seeking women whom her staff had seen detained at the station as recently as last week were now gone. She said they may have been returned to Mexico under a Trump administration program to remove asylum-seekers while their claims are heard in U.S. courts.
But members of the visiting delegation said several hundred people remain detained at the El Paso station. They described a visit with a group of more than a dozen Cuban women housed in a crowded cell without running water who reported going weeks without showers.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said one woman said she was told by Border Patrol officers to drink out of the toilet. “And that was them knowing that a congressional visit was coming,” a visibly angry Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is CBP on their best behavior, telling people to drink out of the toilet.”
Another member of the delegation, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said in an account posted to Twitter that the conditions at the facility were “appalling and disgusting.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., called them indicative of a “human rights crisis.”
The visit came as Border Patrol officials scrambled to respond to a ProPublica report about the secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents in which they discussed throwing burritos at the members of Congress visiting facilities, among other things.
The current and former agents also joked in profane language about the deaths of migrants and posted a vulgar illustration of Ocasio-Cortez engaged in a sexual act with a detained migrant, according to images of the postings obtained by ProPublica.
“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out,” said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”
Last week, Trump defended conditions at migrant detention facilities.
“No, the conditions are much better than they were under President Obama,” Trump told The Hill.