- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2019

Congressional Democrats emerged from a tour of border detention facilities Monday describing “unconscionable” conditions with sick children segregated, people going without medicine and one woman reporting that she was told to get her drinking water from the toilet.

President Trump took a major step toward trying to fix the conditions by signing a $4.6 billion emergency bill that pumps money into border facilities and care for illegal immigrant children being housed in Health and Human Services Department shelters.

Mr. Trump also suggested that the crisis may be easing slightly. He said his recent negotiations with Mexico are bearing fruit with a drop in the number of illegal immigrants reaching the U.S. border.

“It’s cut way down,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office during a ceremony to sign the border spending bill. “Right now they’re doing a very good job. We’re very happy with the job they’re doing.”

Mr. Trump, fresh off his historic trip to the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea, also said he is thinking about trying to delay the 2020 census to shoehorn in a question about citizenship. He said it’s important to know who is a citizen and who is “an illegal.”

The president also defended Border Patrol agents after Pro Publica, a news website, revealed a secret Facebook group of current and former agents where posts included lewd photos and disparaging messages aimed at migrants.

“The Border Patrol, they’re patriots, they’re great people,” Mr. Trump said — though he said he hadn’t seen the offensive posts in question.

One target of the posts was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who joined colleagues for the tour of border detention facilities Monday and who emerged to say she was stunned by the conditions.

“What we saw today was unconscionable,” she said. “No child should ever be separated from their parent. No child should ever be taken from their family. No woman should ever be locked up in a pen when they have done no harm to another human being.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said one cell they saw didn’t have running water. That was where they heard one woman say she had been told to drink from the toilet.

Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, said she encountered an epileptic woman who was unable to get medication for her condition.

Those conditions are still a far cry from the “torture facilities” conditions that Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier reported to a federal court last month. She said two-thirds of infants she examined had respiratory infections and “all children showed evidence of trauma.”

The lawmakers suspected that what they saw, as bad as it was, was a cleaned-up version of the conditions that the families are facing in border facilities meant to house perhaps a fifth of the numbers and for far less time than they are staying.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to claim that one woman slipped her a packet of shampoo given to migrants and said it was all they had to wash their entire body.

“Some women’s hair was falling out. Others had gone 15 days without taking a shower,” she said.

The picture she painted was markedly different from what Brian Hastings, chief of operations at the Border Patrol, told Congress last week, when he said the storeroom at border facilities “frankly looks like Costco,” with shelves of what the agency calls “consumables” — blankets, soap and other basic necessities.

“We are providing those things now. We have been and we will continue to,” Chief Hastings told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Bridging the gap between the dueling descriptions is tough, but both sides of the debate agree that the surge of people has overwhelmed the Homeland Security Department’s ability to deal with the situation.

Across the southwestern border, facilities designed for perhaps 4,000 people have held nearly 20,000 at times this spring. One official estimated that more than 400,000 illegal immigrants who arrived as family units have been released directly into communities this fiscal year.

“These facilities are not built to care for children. The people who are trained here, they are not trained to give care to children,” said Rep. Lori Trahan, a Massachusetts Democrat who was part of the congressional tour of Customs and Border Protection detention facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas.

Part of the $4.6 billion bill Mr. Trump signed Monday will pay for more bed space in border facilities. The measure also includes money for the “consumables” Chief Hastings told Congress about.

But the biggest chunk will go to the Health and Human Services Department to care for unaccompanied alien children. Without the money, officials had begun to limit some nonessential services.

Mr. Trump also suggested that the problem could ease, somewhat, given Mexico’s new commitment of help.

With tens of thousands of national police and troops now deployed at Mexico’s northern and southern border, fewer people are getting through from Central America to the U.S.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week said numbers in June will likely be 25% lower than May.

Even as those numbers improve, Mr. McAleenan and his lieutenants will have to deal with the fallout of the secret Facebook group of current and former Border Patrol agents.

One post suggested throwing burritos at members of Congress during Monday’s visits. Another juxtaposed a photoshopped image Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in a sexual encounter with a photoshopped image of President Trump, according to Pro Publica, which exposed the group’s activities.

Another post seemed to suggest the horrifying photo of an illegal immigrant father and 23-month-old daughter, found dead on the banks of the Rio Grande last week, was staged.

“Have y’all ever seen floaters this clean,” wondered the poster.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the Facebook group “beyond sexist and racist.”

“The agents found to be responsible for these vile comments should no longer have the privilege of representing the United States of America in uniform,” he said in a statement.

CBP has asked the inspector general to investigate and vowed discipline against anyone who broke agency policy.

“Don’t let the actions of the few be representative of the whole,” Chief Hastings said on CNN.

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