Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that migrant women at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Texas were held in cells without water and told by officers to drink out of the toilet.
“This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday, after her visit to a CBP detention facility in El Paso, Texas. She was part of a delegation of more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress visiting facilities where migrants are held at the border.
“What we saw was appalling and disgusting,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said in a video on Twitter after the visit to the El Paso border patrol station. She echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s account that women detainees said they didn’t have running water, and one said an agent told her to drink from a toilet if she wanted water.
Ocasio-Cortez said she “forced” herself into a cell with migrant women, where one told her officers were waging “psychological warfare” against them by waking them at odd hours and calling them “whores.”
When officers allegedly laughed during the visit in response to migrants drinking out of toilets, Ocasio-Cortez said that a superior she had brought this up to said the officers were “under stress” and acting out.
A CBP spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement Tuesday that migrants at the El Paso and Clint detention centers that lawmakers visited “receive three meals a day and have access to clean drinking water.” The agency noted that officials in El Paso “emphasized” to lawmakers that the facilities were “not designed for long-term holding.”
Visiting lawmakers were not allowed to take pictures or record video at the facilities.
As part of their Texas border visit Monday, House Democrats ― including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) ― met with activists and advocates, went to an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility holding unaccompanied migrant children, and then visited a detention center in El Paso, before continuing on to another one in Clint.
“This has been horrifying so far. It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote after visiting the El Paso facility. “We’re talking systemic cruelty [with] a dehumanizing culture that treats them like animals.”
Earlier on Monday, ProPublica reported that thousands of current and former CBP agents were part of a secret Facebook group, in which some joked about migrant deaths, and others discussed throwing burritos at Latinx members of Congress who were expected to visit facilities Monday. One member also posted a derogatory illustration of Ocasio-Cortez that depicted her engaging in sexual acts with a migrant in detention.
Several House Democrats visiting the border condemned the alleged CBP agents’ postings.
“They’re threatening violence on members of Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “How do you think they’re treating caged children+families?”
Reports have long detailed the horrific conditions that migrants, including children, experience in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In May, a Department of Homeland Security watchdog, reporting on Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, found that detained migrants were kept in dirty and extremely crowded conditions, forcing some people to stand on toilets to get some breathing room.
Last month, four toddlers were so severely ill and neglected at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, that lawyers forced the government to hospitalize them.
CBP apprehended over 109,000 people at the border in April ― more than double the number of migrants detained during that month last year. A majority of the migrants apprehended were either families traveling together or unaccompanied kids.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pulled a border aid bill that many Democratic lawmakers preferred and passed the Senate version of the legislation. The House legislation would have mandated basic conditions for border detention facilities, among other items.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus condemned the passage of the Senate bill, saying it “will not stop the rampant human rights abuses in government custody.”
This article has been updated with comment from Customs and Border Protection.