Wednesday 23 October 2019

US migrants being held in ‘horrifying conditions’

People abused and told to drink from toilets, politicians report

Fact finding: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leads the group of politicians touring the Border Patrol migrant detention centres In Texas. Photo: Getty
Fact finding: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leads the group of politicians touring the Border Patrol migrant detention centres In Texas. Photo: Getty

Julio-Cesar Chavez

Migrants held at a border patrol station in El Paso, Texas, were being kept in "horrifying" conditions that included psychological abuse and being told to drink out of toilets, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said after a visit.

A delegation of politicians from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were touring the facilities following reports from a government watchdog that immigrants were being housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

The tour, which also included a visit to a facility in Clint, Texas followed reports from a government watchdog that immigrants were being housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

"After I forced myself into a cell with women and began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as 'psychological warfare'," Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term New York Democrat, tweeted after leaving the El Paso border patrol station.

"This has been horrifying so far."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees border patrols, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her statements.

The Border Patrol also came under fire following a report by non-profit news site ProPublica that offensive content had been posted on a private Facebook group for current and former CBP officers.

Posts included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit comments referencing Ms Ocasio-Cortez, it said.

"This isn't about 'a few bad eggs'," Ms Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to the ProPublica report. "This is a violent culture."

CBP condemned the Facebook group and acknowledged that it may include a number of the agency's employees.

Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of CBP's office of professional responsibility, called the social media activity "disturbing" and said it violated the code of conduct.

Mr Klein said the matter had been referred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general, which oversees the CBP.

According to a screen shot published by ProPublica, the Facebook group had 9,500 members.

"These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honour and integrity I see - and expect - from our agents day in and day out," Border Patrol chief Carla Provost said.

"Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable."

Conditions at US facilities holding migrants along the border with Mexico have become a flashpoint since a government watchdog warned of "dangerous overcrowding" at El Paso in May.

In June, immigration lawyers raised alarms over squalid conditions facing hundreds of children at another facility in Clint, Texas. Both were visited by Ms Ocasio-Cortez and colleagues.

President Donald Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a centrepiece of his administration, but officials say a renewed crush of mostly Central Americans arriving at the border has strained resources. Arrests topped 132,000 in May, their highest level in more than a decade.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, a California Democrat, spoke emotionally about what she saw: "I will never forget the image of being in a cell and seeing 15 women, tears coming down heir faces as they talked about being separated from their children, about having no running water, and about not being able to know when they were going to get out since they had already been there 50 days."

The Trump administration, criticised for a policy of family separation last year, says it now separates children from parents and legal guardians only if there is some perceived risk to the child.

Border Patrol agents have expressed their own concerns about conditions at facilities, and feared riots by migrants being held in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, They were "embarrassed" and "frustrated" by the detainees' conditions at El Paso.

Irish Independent

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