For weeks, Democratic lawmakers have been calling on the Trump administration to improve its treatment of migrants. Following multiple reports alleging that migrant detention centers on the southern border have unsanitary conditions and inadequate resources, more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives visited detention facilities in Texas on Monday to see how migrants were being treated there. Shortly afterward, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's tweets about visiting migrant detention centers gave another look at the conditions in the centers.
In a series of tweets, Ocasio-Cortez described meeting women who claimed they had been told to drink out of toilets, been verbally abused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, or had been prevented from bathing for weeks. Ocasio-Cortez also said the women she spoke to shared their stories with her despite fear of retribution. Elite Daily has reached out to CBP and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, for comment, but did not immediately hear back. After her visit to these facilities, the National Border Patrol Council — a union that includes CBP officers — released a statement saying that most Border Patrol agents care for migrants "humanely and compassionately."
Just hours before Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow lawmakers visited the El Paso Border Patrol station, ProPublica published a report about a secret Facebook group where current and former Border Patrol members reportedly shared jokes about migrant deaths, reportedly posted a "vulgar illustration" of Ocasio-Cortez, and even allegedly suggested throwing burritos at her and other Democrats during their visit. Prior to the lawmakers' visit, CBP told reporters that the agency is investigating “all the allegations of civil rights abuses, or mistreatment and detention," per People. CBP did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for additional comment.
Then, after visiting the first detention center, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that CBP officers "were being so physically [and] sexually threatening towards" her. She alleged that the CBP officers were forcing migrant women to drink water out of toilets, and that the officers laughed while Democratic lawmakers were touring the facility. Ocasio-Cortez then posted additional details from her visits to the El Paso and Clint detention centers, and retweeted calls to "#ClosetheCamps." Elite Daily has reached out to CBP and DHS for comment on the various claims alleged in her tweets, but did not immediately hear back.
Last month, The Associated Press reported that El Paso Border Patrol station was allegedly neglecting and mistreating migrant kids. Elite Daily reached out to DHS and CBP for comment on the report, but did not immediately hear back. But according to Ocasio-Cortez, children aren't the only ones being treated badly.
According to Ocasio-Cortez, one of the women she spoke to claimed that officers call migrants by sexist slurs and wake them up at random times. The woman reportedly called the treatment "psychological warfare." Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who visited the Ursula detention center in McAllen, Texas, last month, shared a similar opinion in an interview with WBUR. Sevier compared these migrant detention centers to torture facilities, arguing that keeping migrants in cages and not giving them resources to stay clean is a form of torture. CBP did not immediately reply to Elite Daily's request for comment on her remarks.
The alleged inhumane conditions at the migrant detention centers went beyond physical trauma, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. She also said that the women she spoke to were worried about facing retribution for sharing their experiences.
Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic lawmakers reported having to check in their phones before touring the detention centers, but they were still able to get some photos and evidence of facility conditions. For example, one woman reportedly handed Ocasio-Cortez a packet of "shampoo" and said it was the only personal hygiene product she got from CBP agents. Other women asked the Democratic lawmakers to share their stories about their alleged mistreatment and family separations, despite being afraid of the consequences.
After Ocasio-Cortez alleged that CBP officers were making migrants drink out of toilets, some of her critics accused her of spreading misinformation. They said that the toilets used in detention centers had sinks with drinking water attached to them — but Ocasio-Cortez said that these sinks weren't working, and that the women were allegedly told to drink directly out of the toilet bowl. DHS and CBP did not immediately respond to Elite Daily' request for comment.
Lawmakers also visited a migrant shelter, where migrants can stay with their families. Reports from The New York Times earlier this year, as well as statements from the Trump administration, suggested that shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) were full or even overcrowded. But Ocasio-Cortez said the shelter she and her fellow House members visited was not even close to maximum capacity. On June 25, HHS told Elite Daily that it "has significantly increased the rates at which we are discharging children to sponsors," and called on Congress to take "swift action" to address the "humanitarian crisis at the border."
Even though Ocasio-Cortez described the conditions at the detention centers as allegedly inhumane and unsanitary, she also said that that CBP "did a lot of 'cleaning up'" before the lawmakers arrived for their visit, and that conditions would normally be worse than what they witnessed. Ocasio-Cortez then expressed concern that CBP agents' "good behavior" in front of federal lawmakers included taking photos and laughing.
Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that CBP agents made her feel unsafe, and continued to list ways in which they were allegedly poorly treating the migrants in the detention centers. She urged the agency to be accountable, and she made it clear that she would continue fighting for migrants' rights.