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Mike Pence heads to border to defend migrant facilities as Democrats decry ‘unconscionable’ conditions

Mike Pence heads to border to defend migrant facilities as Democrats decry ‘unconscionable’ conditions

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Texas Rep. Roy called out both parties while talking about the alleged mistreatment at border facilities.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Two events today more than 1,700 miles apart are putting on display the deep divisions over the worsening migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border. 

Battling to shape public perceptions, Vice President Mike Pence and a group of Republican senators are heading to the border to tour a migrant detention center while Democrats hold a high-profile hearing about the centers, featuring testimony from government watchdog officials and some of their most outspoken members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The dueling events have put all eyes — and TV cameras — on conditions at the facilities, which have drawn intense scrutiny due to reports chronicling severe overcrowding and inadequate care for migrant families. All of this comes against the backdrop of the deaths of at least six migrant children who have died in federal custody and nationwide raids expected this weekend by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would leave even more undocumented migrants in federal custody.  

Pence says TV welcome: VP defends conditions at border centers, says he’ll bring cameras on tour

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Pence, senators tour detention center

Democrats have expressed outrage over what they say is inhumane treatment of migrant families. 

But Pence and Republican senators want to push back on those criticisms. They contend that the border facilities have become overwhelmed because Democrats have refused to work with them on policies that would stem the flow of migrants across the border. Pence has criticized lawmakers such as Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who have compared the detention facilities to concentration camps.

“It is really contemptible that some in Congress have referred to U.S. detention facilities as concentration camps,” Pence told reporters Wednesday during a trip to California. “That’s an outrage. The Nazis killed people. Our Customs and Border Protection personnel save lives every day.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., said he visited a detention facility in McAllen, Texas — the same Pence will tour with a handful of senators today, and said that the crisis along the border “was worse than I’ve ever seen it,” noting that the packed cells he saw were built for 300 people but housing about 1,100. 

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“The crisis has gotten materially worse in significant part because congressional Democrats keep galloping to the left on immigration so that as a policy matter, they essentially support open borders,” Cruz said. “Until we close the loopholes, a lot more children will be victimized.” 

While Cruz highlighted the worsening conditions in such centers, Pence vowed to bring along TV cameras as he toured the facility in McAllen, Texas and said Thursday the aim of the visit with Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee was to show people a facility and level of care that would “make the American people proud.” 

“What people are going to see is not the situation many Democrats have described but actually a situation where our CBP agents are providing humanitarian care, health care, shelter, food, sustenance in a way that would make the American people proud,” Pence said Thursday. 

More: Mike Pence visiting border to counter ‘absurd’ claims about treatment of migrants, aide says

Pence noted Wednesday that the detention centers are “overwhelmed” because “our system was simply never designed to deal with this” and said, “we’re going to lean into this crisis.” 

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., agreed and criticized planned House testimony from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, a freshmen Democrat from New York who has become a progressive star on social media. 

“Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion counts, just not to me. She can’t be objective on this issue,” he said. “I think her mind is made up and I don’t think any amount of testimony would change her mind. I don’t think she understands the problem and I question her judgment. I think she’s more famous than wise.”

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib gave impassioned testimony at a hearing on migrant facilities.
USA TODAY

Democrats highlight Ocasio-Cortez in hearing about migrant centers

Before Republicans started their tour, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee put the spotlight on the Trump administration and the policies they say contributed to the mistreatment of migrants in detention centers.

Despite Republican attacks on Ocasio-Cortez, House Democrats made her one of the stars of Friday’s hearing on the conditions of the centers.

She, along with Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, testified before the committee about their visit to the border earlier this month, where they toured a detention facility in Clint, Texas, and met with families who said they had been separated.

Starting off her remarks, Ocasio-Cortez asked to be sworn in, which isn’t common when a member of Congress testifies and would put her comments under oath — subject to federal perjury laws if her comments were found to be untruthful. 

In an impassioned speech, she got emotional describing the 17 women she met touring the detention center and the conditions they described. The worst part, Ocasio-Cortez said, was that American flags were displayed everywhere as she listened to migrants who said they had sores and had been sleeping on the floors.

“Children being separated from their parents in front of an American flag,” she told the panel. “Women were being called these names under an American flag. We cannot allow for this.” 

Tlaib also got emotional during her testimony as she talked about meeting a young boy and a pregnant woman during their tour. “She was glowing,” Tlaib said about the woman, as she wiped her eyes with a tissue. 

Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley rubbed Tlaib’s back as she said the woman had now been freed from after nearly a month in the center. 

More: AOC criticizes CBP after report of secret Facebook group as agency opens investigation

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A young girl described her treatment while locked in a Texas border station where hundreds of other migrant children have been detained this year. (July 1)
AP, AP

The Border Patrol facility in Clint made headlines after a group of lawyers who had spent time there went public with their findings, detailing children sleeping on floors and being held without access to medical care, clean water or toothbrushes. It has become the epicenter of the migrant crisis in large part because assessing conditions border facilities is difficult due to limited access to sites.

The congressional committee also heard from Republican members of the committee who represent border states and who say they have watched the crisis worsen for years. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz, Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., Rep. Chip Roy, D-Texas., each spotlighted what they’ve seen in migrant shelters, describing clean facilities and compassionate border agents who try to help migrants. 

Biggs defended border agents who work in the facilities and appeared to call out Ocasio-Cortez for her rhetoric about the facilities and its employees. Looking over at Ocasio-Cortez, he said Democrats were after only “clicks, Twitter followers and cynical politics.” 

“The fact is, both parties have failed,” he said. “There is a path to fix this.” 

Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, agreed.

“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time and as we all know, it’s getting worse by the day,” said Jordan, R-Ohio, in his opening statement. “I hope the Democrats will stop in their obsession of attacking the president and will actually work collaboratively to fix this crisis.”

The committee also heard from activists and the Department of Homeland Security’s acting Inspector General, Jennifer Costello, who issued the scathing watchdog reports chronicling unsafe conditions inside detention facilities. 

Friday’s hearing follows an inspector general’s report released by Costello this month that described the conditions at detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley as “a ticking time bomb.” The report included photos showing migrants crowded behind chain-link fences, huddling under blankets on the floor and some holding up their hands and signs.

Friday’s hearing room was packed, including with families and protesters wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “STOP ICE.” Protesters and activists lined the hallway outside, hoping to watch the proceedings. 

Later this month, the committee will hear testimony from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan about the centers and the separation of families. 

Opinion: Trump plan to incarcerate migrant children at Fort Sill again shows worst of America

Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Alan Gomez

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/07/12/mike-pence-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-star-events-migrant-crisis/1704086001/

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