In the News
July 12, 2019
By Charles T. Clark
A day after Vice President Mike Pence visited immigrant detention facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas , San Diego’s Rep. Scott Peters did the exact same thing.
On Saturday Peters and 19 other Democratic congressional members visited the southern border near McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, where they toured a detention facility and processing center, and met with Border Patrol agents, migrants and volunteers providing humanitarian aid.
In a phone interview with Union-Tribune Saturday, Peters described poor conditions and massive overcrowding he witnessed at the facilities, and expressed a need for the federal government to act.
“It’s too crowded,” Peters said. “These places serve a temporary function but the level of congestion there just inherently makes them inhumane.”
Peters is one of dozens of elected officials who’ve taken time to visit facilities in the wake of a report earlier this month from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The investigative agency’s report highlighted dangerous overcrowding, squalid conditions and prolonged detention of children at five migrant detention facilities in Texas.
Peters said the scale of what is happening in Texas is very different from the realities in San Diego, where apprehensions are drastically lower.
Peters added there was a difference in the conditions of the facilities sheltering families versus individuals, and said there is a lot the federal government can do overall to help address the current situation.
He said that although work still needs to be done overall to improve the culture at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, he was impressed by the professionalism of Border Patrol agents when he visited. He added that they seemed to be doing the best they could with what they had, but clearly need more resources and are doing a job they are not trained to do.
“They’re trained to do law enforcement ... now they’re put in this role of doing these credible fear interviews and running detention facilities,” said Peters. “I think social workers and legal professionals are probably the ones that we want to do that, and we should provide resources for that.”
Peters also said there needs to be more investment on the administrative end starting with judges so that migrants — asylum-seeking or otherwise — can have their cases processed in a much more timely manner, and thus be held in facilities for a far shorter period of time.
He added that the government should also be developing aid programs for Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other home countries of migrants.
The vice president and the nine Republican congressional members who visited McAllen Friday seemed to have different takeaways from their visit than Peters.
Talking with reporters after his tour, Pence criticized Democratic members of Congress who have compared the facilities to concentration camps and said the work of the agents would make every American proud.
The vice president did note however, similar to Peters, that there were differences in the quality of the facilities for individuals and families.
At the first facility the vice president went to, which was relatively clean with air conditioning, Pence reportedly spoke to children and adults who said they were being treated well, according to a pool report.
However, at the second facility Pence visited there were about 400 men caged in a dirty, sweltering room . There was reportedly a horrendous stench in the room as well, and agents were guarding the cages wearing facemasks.
Many of the men had not showered in 10 to 20 days because the facility did not have showers until Thursday, according to a patrol agent who is in charge of the facility.
In an exchange with reporters after visiting the second facility, Pence said it was evidence of an overwhelmed system and criticized Democrats.
“That’s the overwhelming of the system that some in Congress have said was a manufactured crisis,” Pence said. “But now I think the American people can see this crisis is real ... And the time has come to stop the irresponsible rhetoric about the way that people are being cared for and treated who are being detained in our facilities.”
Peters pushed back against the vice president’s suggestion that Democrats were to blame for failing to take action, noting that polices of President Donald Trump’s administration have exacerbated the situation and Democrats just a weeks ago offered bipartisan support for an additional $4.6 billion in border funding.
He said he remains interested in actually solving problems.
“There’s no reason we have to be inhumane in this process, and the process doesn’t have to last too long,” Peters said. “It’s just a matter of deciding where to give some priority to this, and I think that’s what we need to do.”