Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he saw “awful, awful” conditions for migrants held at a detention center run by Customs and Border Protection at the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Friday, a dozen Senate Democrats went to see migrant detention centers in McAllen, Texas, to investigate the treatment of undocumented immigrants being held there.
“It’s awful the conditions these people are placed in,” Schumer said at a press conference following their visit to the McAllen Border Patrol Station. He said lawmakers were told 400 people were taken out of the facility the previous day to “make things look better.” (When asked if people were moved, CBP told HuffPost it “does not provide custody numbers as those change daily.”)
“Facilities like this ― it’s just awful, awful, awful to see how these people are being treated,” he said.
Lawmakers asked a young boy at the detention center whether he had been able to brush his teeth, in a video Schumer tweeted ahead of the press conference. The boy and a girl sitting beside him both shook their heads no.
“This is not acceptable. A child telling us he’s not able to even brush his teeth in a facility on our southern border,” Schumer tweeted. “These are human beings, children, kids, families, fleeing violence. This is not who we are.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who was also at the border facility visit, said people held there for days or weeks hadn’t been able to reach out to family.
“The water they’re drinking here – which I tasted – is barely drinkable,” Coons tweeted.
CBP told HuffPost that it was using its “limited resources” to give “the best care possible” to those in custody, particularly children, and added that its “short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations.”
One of the migrants at the facility told Coons he’d been there for over a month.
Earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez and other House Democrats also visited migrants in detention centers in Texas. The congresswoman said that women in a CBP facility in El Paso were in cells without water and at least one said officers told her to drink out of the toilet. Ocasio-Cortez condemned the “horrifying” conditions in the detention centers, later calling them concentration camps.
Trump has dismissed the bad conditions in the government-run facilities, tweeting in early July, “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”
Recent reports have detailed the horrific conditions that migrants, including children, experience in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General released a report earlier this month describing “dangerous overcrowding,” prolonged detention and health risks to migrants at multiple Border Patrol facilities in South Texas. The report from the agency watchdog included photos of extremely crowded detention centers, with some people sleeping on the concrete floor. One cell with a capacity of 41 people held 88 men, one of whom held a sign against the window to investigators saying, “HELP 40 Days Here.”
Last week, reporters accompanied Vice President Mike Pence on a visit to a Texas border facility, where they saw almost 400 migrant men so severely packed into cages that they could not lie down on the concrete floor at the same time to sleep, per a pool report. Several migrants said that they had been detained and largely unable to wash for 40 days. “The stench was horrendous,” Washington Post journalist Josh Dawsey tweeted.
Last month, four toddlers were so severely ill and neglected at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in McAllen that lawyers forced the government to hospitalize them.
“These are human beings fleeing danger,” Schumer tweeted on Friday. “They deserve to be treated humanely and with respect.”
Lawmakers said CBP told them during the visit that 98% of all migrants who came through the U.S.-Mexico border were not criminals.
Trump has tried to vastly limit asylum seekers coming to the U.S. Under his administration’s recently implemented “remain in Mexico” policy, thousands of people seeking in the U.S. have been forced to wait in Mexico ― often in dangerous areas ― as their claims are processed. And earlier this week, Trump issued a new rule targeting Central Americans seeking to make any migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. ineligible for asylum, with few exceptions. (The rule was immediately challenged in federal court.)
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who speaks Spanish, said he met a woman at one border facility who was holding a three-month-old baby in her arms and said she had fled Guatemala “because of the horrific violence.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) spoke to a woman and her son who said they fled Honduras because the violent gang MS-13 had killed her grandfather and threatened to kill her.
“They fled for their life,” Merkley tweeted. “This is who is coming to America seeking our help.”
This article has been updated with further comment from CBP.