WASHINGTON – With television cameras in tow, Vice President Mike Pence toured a Border Patrol facility in Texas on Friday as Republicans pushed back on reports that migrants detained in such centers are being held in deplorable and dangerous conditions.
Beneath a vinyl tent that doubles as a processing center for migrants who cross the southern border illegally, Pence approached a woman bouncing a young boy on her lap and asked where she’s from.
“El Salvador,” she said through an interpreter.
“Are you and your children being taken care of here?” Pence asked. “Are they treating you well here? Do you have food?”
The woman nodded her head yes.
Pence’s trip to the facility near McAllen, Texas, with a group of Republican senators, comes amid reports of dangerously overcrowded conditions at some detention facilities. At least six migrant children in border facilities have died since December.
As Pence was touring the facility, House Democrats back in Washington were holding a high-profile hearing on what they said were inhumane conditions they found when they toured another detention facility in Clint, Texas.
But Pence told reporters he “couldn’t be more impressed” by what he described as “the compassionate work” by Border Patrol agents at the facility near McAllen.
“Every family that I spoke with told me they were being well cared for,” he said, noting what he heard was different from what he called “the harsh rhetoric” coming from Democrats.
It’s not just Democrats who have complained about the conditions at border detention facilities.
Independent investigators for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security visited Border Patrol facilities in western Texas in May and found dozens of migrants packed into spaces so tight that some had to stand on toilets.
After visiting five facilities in June, the inspector general released a report describing dangerously overcrowded conditions.
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The facility that Pence toured on Friday is a processing center and not one of those cited as being chronically overcrowded. But it’s also where the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has said migrants are receiving substandard care.
The facility, an air-conditioned tent complex, opened in early May on the border about 20 miles from McAllen and just yards from an international bridge connecting the United States to Mexico. It is broken up into four 8,000-square-foot pods that resemble a high school gymnasium with a linoleum, rock-patterned floor. There is space for intake processing and restrooms with showers and laundry facilities.
About 800 people were being held Friday in the facility, which officials said had a capacity of 1,000.
A reporter traveling with Pence described seeing detainees lying on kindergarten-like napping mats on the floor, covered with a thin tinfoil-like blanket. In one room, the intake facility, a crowd that appeared to be more than 100 people sat on benches. Most appeared dirty, and officials said they were waiting for showers and had been brought in earlier Friday. Some of the children were crying and sleeping.
Pence and second lady Karen Pence approached a couple of boys sitting on a bench.
“I’m the vice president,” he said. “Are they taking good care of you here? Do you have enough to eat?”
The boys nodded their heads yes.
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“What we saw today is a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of,” Pence said later at a roundtable discussion that included Border Patrol officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Slamming Democrats who have called the situation on the border “a manufactured crisis,” Pence said the U.S. has “a moral obligation” to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
“The facts are, we have a crisis on our southern border that is being driven by human traffickers who are exploiting loopholes in American law to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous journey north,” he said.
“The crisis is real,” he said. “This is not a manufactured crisis.”
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