The House Oversight and Reform Committee is holding a hearing Friday morning on the treatment of migrants at the southern border, amid multiple reports of poor conditions in detention centers.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave passionate testimony about her visit to a border facility, saying that “the cruelty (at the border) is manufactured” by hard line immigration policies ordered by the president.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said that family separations were “more harmful, traumatic and chaotic than previously known.” He also urged committee members to ask themselves, referring to the squalid conditions which migrant children sometimes endure at detention facilities, “Would you allow this for your own child?”
Members of Congress testify passionately about conditions at the border
After Ocasio-Cortez, the sixth to speak, was challenged by Republicans on the panel, she requested to be sworn in to ensure that everything she was saying was true under penalty of perjury.
Ocasio-Cortez said that the crisis at the border is “manufactured” in that it is “wholly unnecessary.” “It is unnecessary to separate children from their families,” she said.
“The cruelty is manufactured. This is a manufactured crisis because there is no need for us to do this,” she continued. Ocasio-Cortez. She submitted the names of 17 women whom she visited at the border into the record, saying that she believed their stories that they had been forced to drink from toilets.
“When these women tell me that they were put into a cell and that their sink was not working, and we tested the sink ourselves and the sink was not working, and they were told to drink out of a toilet bowl I believe them. I believe these women,” she said.
“We are not getting the accounts of migrants, of their treatment, of what they’re experiencing,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. Her voice breaking, Ocasio-Cortez said that the worst part of her visit was that “there were American flags hanging all over these facilities.”
The committee heard first from a panel including Democratic congresswomen who recently visited the border facility in Clint, Texas: Reps. Veronica Escobar, Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib, along with Rep. Ilhan Omar, are a group of progressive members of the House — with an extensive social media following — known colloquially as “the Squad.”
Four Republican members of the committee with districts near the border also testified in the hearing. The Republicans and Democrats likely spoke past each other, condemning members of the opposite party for their response to the crisis.
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs chided his Democratic colleagues for blaming border patrol officials for the poor conditions at detention facilities.
“We do not get anywhere by blaming the people who are doing their best to help these people,” Biggs said.
GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona also took a shot at the Democrats on the panel, saying, “I’m from a border state, I’m not from a state thousands of miles away.” Pressley represents Massachusetts, Tlaib represents Michigan, and Ocasio-Cortez represents New York. Lesko also contradicted Ocasio-Cortez, who said that she saw migrants drinking from toilets when she visited a border facility.
“This whole issue of drinking out of the toilet is wrong. No one is being asked to drink out of the toilet,” Lesko said. GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas also defended border patrol agents, saying that they were overwhelmed by the number of migrants in need of humanitarian assistance and by criticism from members of Congress.
“They are exhausted of all the rhetoric that is coming down from the media and this Congress,” Roy said.
Escobar, who represents a district on the border covering El Paso, Texas, argued that the city of El Paso has responded to migrants crossing the border more “strategically, thoughtfully and compassionately than the federal government has.”
Tlaib was on the verge of tears during her testimony, her voice breaking as she showed the picture a young migrant boy had drawn for her showing children in cages. She openly cried as she spoke about a pregnant woman whom she met at a detention center. Tlaib also claimed that a border patrol agent at the center: “I wasn’t trained for this, I am not a social worker, I am not a medical worker…I want to be at the border.”
“The dehumanization is not only with these families but with these agents that we’ve told to do this to these families,” Tlaib said about agents.
In her opening statement, Pressley urged for compassion, saying that women held in detention facilities were not “voiceless…but they are cruelly and criminally unheard.”
Ocasio-Cortez suggested interview with The New Yorker earlier this week, her recent visit to a border detention facility in El Paso, Texas as grounds for disbanding the agency. She described the conditions in the facility as “horrible” and said she witnessed “some of the most inhumane behavior.”(DHS) in an
“It’s not even living…it was the physical manifestation of Trump’s rhetoric and calling migrants animals because that’s how these women were being treated, their hair was falling out, they had sores in their mouths due to the lack of nutrition,” she said.
The agency was created to address terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Officials testify about the situation at the border
The committee is then hearing from a panel including the acting inspector general of DHS, Jennifer Costello, and the assistant inspector general for evaluations and inspections of the Department of Health and Human Services, Ann Maxwell. Former Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan will also be on the panel.
In a, the DHS Office of the Inspector General found squalid conditions in several detention centers for migrant families and children in Texas, including “serious” overcrowding, minors going without hot meals for days and detainees begging not to be returned to their cells.
Along with mass overcrowding in detention cells for children, adults and families, the agency said it found that detainees were held in CBP custody for a “prolonged” periods of time. In all of the inspected facilities, more than 2,500 unaccompanied children had been held for more than three days, a violation of the Flores court settlement that governs the care of minors in U.S. custody. About 50 children under the age of 7 had been in custody for over two weeks, the report said.
The panel comes as a Republican Senate delegation led by Sen. Lindsey Graham travels to McAllen, Texas, to assess the situation at the border.
“Word is out on the street in Central America that if you make it to the United States, try to get caught, don’t evade capture, claim asylum – your chances of being deported are very, very low. I’m trying to do something about that,” Graham said on Thursday.
Vice President Mike Pence is also visiting a border detention facility Friday — he intends to show that reports of chaos and turmoil at the detention facilities are inaccurate, and migrants are receiving good care.
The hearing also comes ahead of mass raids on undocumented immigrants by ICE expected to begin this weekend. According to the New York Times, ICE isabout 2,000 migrants who are here illegally and were ordered deported. The agency has said that while its focus is on arresting people with criminal histories, any immigrant found in violation of U.S. laws would be subject to arrest.
Emily Tillett and Camilo Montoya-Galvez contributed to this report