Vice President Mike Pence said reports of horrendous conditions at the Trump administration’s migrant detention centers were a result of the Department of Homeland Security being “overwhelmed” and Democrats in Congress refusing to talk about the immigration crisis with President Donald Trump.
The New Yorker reported this week:
Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of each other because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.
CNN host Jake Tapper confronted Pence on Sunday about the “shocking” conditions at migrant detention centers, pressing him on disturbing reports of how children are being denied basic hygiene and medical care.
Tapper played a clip of Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian suggesting detained migrant children did not need toothbrushes or soap, prompting Pence to respond, “I can’t speak to what that lawyer was saying.” He then insisted congressional Democrats had failed to fund additional bed space in detention centers.
Tapper asked Pence, “Aren’t toothbrushes and blankets and medicine basic conditions for kids aren’t they part how the United State of America, the Trump administration treats children?”
“Well of course they are, Jake,” Pence replied. “I can’t speak to what that lawyer was saying but that was one of the reasons we were asking for more bed space when we were negotiating with Congress during the government shutdown. And Democrats in Congress refused to expand the bed space and the capacity for us to detain people at our borders.”
Pence called on Congress to give DHS additional resources at the border and “get to the root problems and loopholes, human traffickers are, as we speak, trying to entice vulnerable families to go north.”
Tapper continued to press Pence on the conditions of the children and families in U.S. custody “right now.”
“I know you, you’re a father, you’re a man of faith, you can’t approve of that,” Tapper said.
“No American should approve of this mass influx of people coming across our border it is overwhelming our system,” Pence said.
“But how about how we are treating these children?” Tapper asked again. “You have the power to change that on our southern border right now: soap, toothbrushes, combs… 12-year-olds taking care of 3-year-olds making sure they don’t all get the flu.”
“I was at the detention center in Nogales, just a few months ago, it was a heartbreaking scene, being exploited by human traffickers to charge them $5,000 a person to entice them to take their vulnerable children and take the long and dangerous journey north.”
“The truth is, in the last 10 days Mexico has done more to secure our southern border than Democrats have done in Congress in the last ten years. And that has to change,” Pence argued.
“I’ve been down there. Head down there. Our Customs and Border Protection personnel, our dedicated men and women, they are doing their absolute best every day, they literally, I heard of the number of hospital runs that they make on any given day because people who take that long and dangerous journey north are often assaulted along the way, young women are sexually assaulted along the way,” the vice president continued.
“It’s horrific what is happening at our border and we know how to fix it,” Pence said, arguing congressional Democrats need to make a deal. “President Trump has said we could fix this in 15 minutes if the Democrats will sit down with us, close the loopholes, provide the resources we need to deal with the influx.”
Warren Binford, a law professor at Williamette University who was part of the team of lawyers that interviewed 60 children in a detention facility in Clint, Texas, told the AP that children her team interview were so tired they were falling asleep at the tables and chairs in the interview room.
“We’ve seen the worst conditions that we’ve seen in the last three years of conducting these visits,” said Binford.
“Many of them have not been bathed, many of them talk about how hungry they are,” she added.
Binford also said that the conditions at the Ursula Detention Center in McAllen, Texas that her team visited the week before were no better for the children there.
“The children are telling us that there have been over 300 children in a single room,” said Binford. “If that’s true, which it appears to be, then, literally, the United States is warehousing children in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario.”
“We’ve got to do something about it,” said Binford.
Immigration attorneys have said that four toddlers were sent to the hospital last week after they were held at a Border Patrol facility.