A Border Patrol truck at the US-Mexico border. (Loren ELLIOTT / AFP)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — U.S. Congressional Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Joe Kennedy III, and Lori Trahan spoke about the conditions they saw while touring border detention facilities Monday.
The trio, along with other members of congress who took part in the tour of two detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas, described seeing sick toddlers sleeping on floors; women being told to drink from toilets; detainees going weeks without showers; and migrant women terrified of retribution for talking about their experiences.
"This is bigger than a funding debate, or about any speeches that we give here or on the floor of the House of Representatives," Pressley told reporters. "This is about the preservation of our humanity. This is about seeing every single person there as a member of your own family. I am tired of the health and the safety, the humanity and the full freedoms of black and brown children being negotiated and compromised and moderated."
Other U.S. representatives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were on the tour, which was organized by the House Hispanic Caucus.
The conditions of the detention centers have been under new scrutiny since the publication of an Associated Press article last month in which attorneys accused one facility of neglecting the migrants detained there. The story described children in soiled clothes with no diapers and no access to soap.
A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection must allow an independent monitor inside to ensure "safe and sanitary" conditions for the detained children.
Rep. Kennedy described a "contentious and uncooperative" atmosphere, claiming CBP officers "tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video."
In a series of tweets, he described the conditions he viewed at the facilities.
"Our oversight is not deterred," Kennedy wrote. "Congress won't let up."
Rep. Trahan also described what she saw on the tour on Twitter.
"These facilities are not built to care for children," Trahan said. "The people who are trained here, they are not trained to give care to children—so we need to come up with prescriptions and responsible solutions to give high-quality care for kids who are in our custody. This is about children, this is about human rights, and we've got a lot of work to do."
As the tour was taking place, a ProPublica investigation broke the news of a secret, 9,500-member Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents, where members "shared derogatory comments," crude memes, and threats directed at lawmakers who were part of Monday's tour. Some of those on the tour responded, and the Hispanic Caucus called for an investigation.
CBP responded to the ProPublica investigation, calling the social media activity "disturbing" and saying employees "found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable."
"These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out," the head of the organization tweeted.
Pressley said she asked her constituents what message they wanted her to deliver to the children and families detained in the facilities.
"They asked me to deliver a message that you are welcome here, and that we love you, and that we will never stop fighting for your dignity, for your humanity, and for the preservation of your family," Pressley said.