Last month, lawyers conducting welfare visits to Texas Customs and Border Protection facilities revealed that detained migrants are being held in conditions more appalling and inhumane than most could have imagined. They found filthy, cramped women and children who had been deprived of basic hygiene and forced to sleep on concrete floors. Physician Dolly Lucio Sevier wrote in her medical declaration that the conditions could be compared to those of “torture facilities.”
On Monday, a delegation of lawmakers visited border facilities in El Paso and Clint. Among them were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who described the conditions in detail on their Twitter feeds and while speaking to the media after their visits. What they saw was no less horrifying than what was described by the lawyers who visited CBP facilities last month. According to both Ocasio-Cortez and Castro migrants are even being forced to drink out of toilets.
“When we went into the cell, it was clear the water was not running,” said Castro of the facility in El Paso. “One of the women said she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet. These are the conditions folks are facing.” Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) posted a video to Twitter in which she claimed one migrant woman told her that a border patrol agent said that “if she wanted water, just to drink from the toilet.”
Ocasio-Cortez replied to a picture of a bathroom setup similar to what she saw while visiting the facility in Clint. “The women were told they could drink out of the bowl,” she tweeted.
This was in fact the type of toilet we saw in the cell.
Except there was just one, and the sink portion was not functioning – @AyannaPressley smartly tried to open the faucet, and nothing came out.
So the women were told they could drink out of the bowl. https://t.co/rcu9Rt6B2x
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 1, 2019
Forcing migrants to drink from toilets was only one element of the abuse. Castro described the conditions in detail in a series of tweets:
“At the El Paso Border Patrol Station #1, women from Cuba, some grandmothers, crammed into a prison-like cell with one toilet, but no running water to drink from or wash their hands with. Concrete floors, cinder-block walls, steel toilets. Many said they had not bathed for 15 days. Some had been separated from children, some had been held for more than 50 days. Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy. Members of Congress comforted them when the women broke down. They asked us to take down their names and let everyone know they need help. They also feared retribution. We then went to the Clint Border Patrol Station that warehouses children and some parents. The tents outside, used during the surge recently, were dark and surrounded by chain link fences. The showers — mobile units — were dank, dirty and only too small in number for the hundreds of people there just a few weeks ago. And a boy, perhaps three years old, pressed his face against the dirty glass of a locked steel door. He smiled big and tried to talk to us through the thick glass. His family — or another — ate Ramen on the floor a few feet away. There are many good agents — men and women working earnestly to care for the people in their custody. But they are overwhelmed in a system that is morally bankrupt and challenged by rogue agents whose culture was on full display in the Facebook group revealed by ProPublica today.”
Castro also posted a video:
This moment captures what it’s like for women in CBP custody to share a cramped cell—some held for 50 days—for them to be denied showers for up to 15 days and life-saving medication. For some, it also means being separated from their children. This is El Paso Border Station #1. pic.twitter.com/OmCAlGxDt8
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) July 1, 2019
Though members of Congress were required to check their phones before entering the facilities, Castro was able to, in the words of Ocasio-Cortez, “sneak a device in.” Several lawmakers described Customs and Border Protection as being hostile to the visiting members of Congress. “@CPB was very resistant to Congressional oversight,” tweeted Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA). “They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video. Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) tweeted that she and her fellow lawmakers were “met with hostility” from the guards. “I can’t understate how disturbing it was that CBP officers were openly disrespectful of the Congressional tour,” added Ocasio-Cortez. “If officers felt comfortable violating agreements in front of their *own* management & superiors, that tells us the agency has lost all control of their own officers.”
Despite the restrictions, Ocasio-Cortez was able to sneak out a packet women are given to wash themselves.
CBP made us check our phones.
But one woman slipped me this packet to take with me.
It says “shampoo,” but she told me that this is all they give women to wash their entire body. Nothing else.
Some women’s hair was falling out. Others had gone 15 days without taking a shower. pic.twitter.com/OsaKS0YD9a
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 1, 2019
The same day the delegation of lawmakers lifted the latest curtain on the squalid conditions at the border, ProPublica published a story exposing a three-year-old secret Facebook group comprised of nearly 10,000 current and former CPB members in which “agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.”
As Ocasio-Cortez summed it up on Twitter: “When you pair: – 9,500 current + former CBP officers are part of a violently racist & sexually violent secret Facebook group — Corroborating accounts of abuse — CBP couldn’t control their own officers for a Congressional tour — What else do you call that but a rogue agency?”