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Members Of Congress Describe Migrant Detention Center Without Running Water

Mallory Falk | KERA
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joaquin Castro spoke after touring migrant detention centers.

About a dozen members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus toured three migrant detention facilities near El Paso on Monday as part of an investigation.

Congressman Joaquin Castro is chairman of the caucus and said he and the other representatives spoke to about 15 women at the facilities. He represents the 20th congressional district of Texas, which includes more than half of San Antonio.

“When we went into the cell it was clear that the water was not running. There was a toilet but there was no running water for people to drink. In fact, one of the women said she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet,” Castro said.

The visit follows reports from ProPublica on a secret Facebook group reportedly made up of current and former CBP agents. Several posts in the group make derogatory comments toward undocumented children.

Castro referred to it as a “vulgar, disgusting and vile page.”

“That shows unfortunately that there are many within [Customs and Border Protection] who become desensitized to the point of being dangerous to the migrants in their care and to their coworkers,” he said.

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose congressional district covers El Paso, also visited the facilities. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and is the Freshman Representative of the Hispanic Caucus.

“I have said many times the agents are overwhelmed, exhausted. This is a terrible situation for them. We have some very good agents,” she said. “But after today’s ProPublica news it’s very clear there’s also some people who do not deserve to have a badge or a gun.”

It wasn't just Texans who participated in the investigation. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents parts of The Bronx and Queens in New York City and recently called migrant detention centers “concentration camps.” 

“What we saw today was unconscionable,” Ocasio-Cortez said outside of the Clint Border Patrol Station. “No child should ever be taken from their family. No woman should ever be locked up in a pen when they have done no harm to another human being.”

Credit Mallory Falk | KERA
Mallory Falk | KERA
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts speaks after touring border facilities.

Outside of one facility were protestors with pro-Trump signs and “Make America Great Again” hats. Counter-protestors were also there and a shouting match between the two groups soon commenced.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is from Massachusetts and said the issues at detention facilities are bigger than any funding debate or speech given on the House floor.

“I learned a long time ago that when change happens it’s either because people see the light or they feel the fire,” she said. Today we are lifting up these stories in the hopes that you will see the light. And if you don’t, we will bring the fire.”

The congressional delegation's visit comes after reports of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the Clint facility, which is currently holding children apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Mallory Falk can be reached on Twitter at @MalloryFalk.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules
Mallory Falk was WWNO's first Education Reporter. Her four-part series on school closures received an Edward R. Murrow award. Prior to joining WWNO, Mallory worked as Communications Director for the youth leadership non-profit Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. She fell in love with audio storytelling as a Middlebury College Narrative Journalism Fellow and studied radio production at the Transom Story Workshop.
Bri Kirkham can be reached at bri@tpr.org or on Twitter at @BriKirk