'I was not surprised': Reporters with Mike Pence discover migrants confined in 'horrendous' conditions
While traveling with Vice President Mike Pence to Texas, pool reporters negotiated access to see an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station. And what they found, as documented in a pool report and photos by reporter John Dawsey of the Washington Post, was an absolutely horrifying scene.
There were about 400 men caged in a fenced-in area outdoors, "so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete," Dawsey reported.
"There were no mats or pillows — some of the men were sleeping on concrete," he said. "The stench was horrendous."
He described the weather as "sweltering hot."
The men in the cages began shouting at the press when they came by, saying that they've been kept there for 40 days or longer. Dawsey said they appeared dirty. The patrol agent in charge at the station admitted some of the men hadn't showered for 10 or 20 days because the facility only recently got showers. He claimed that, despite what the immigrants had said, no one had been at the facility longer than 32 days. The men also told the press they wanted to brush their teeth; the patrol agent said they were allowed to once a day.
The men told the reporters they were hungry. The patrol agent said they got three hot meals a day from local restaurants.
Inside the facility, it's not clear it was much better.
"Crowded cells could be seen all around," Dawsey reported. "382 men were in the cells, many of them appeared quite young and some shirtless, and they pressed their faces up against the window to see the commotion."
He continued: "[The patrol agent] said the facility was cleaned three times a day, but it did not seem that way, and that it was air conditioned, but it did not feel that way."
Dawsey shared terrifying images on Twitter:
VP saw 384 men sleeping inside fences, on concrete w/no pillows or mats. They said they hadn’t showered in weeks, w… https://t.co/RzmsOV1H6S— Josh Dawsey (@Josh Dawsey) 1562972778.0
A few other images from inside: https://t.co/0s7nLXyT3p— Josh Dawsey (@Josh Dawsey) 1562973298.0
“I was not surprised by what I saw,” Pence told the reporters. “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed.”
He added: "This is tough stuff."
Dawsey said that Pence tried to avoid the question multiple times when he was asked whether he was "OK" with the situation. Eventually, he said he wasn't OK with it and that he's been trying to fix the system.
But this crisis is one of the administration's own making. It doesn't need to confine these people — it's an enforcement choice that the administration has made. Many comments from administration officials indicate that the cruel and inhumane conditions are the point. They're supposed to deter more migrants from coming.
Trump, Pence, and others blame the Democrats for the lack of funding to hold the immigrants more humanely, but this excuse makes no sense. Law enforcement is obligated to moderate its actions in line with the resources that lawmakers have allocated. Trump pretends that locking up every unauthorized border-crosser — even if they're seeking aslyum, which is a legal form of immigration — is necessary to preserve the rule of law, but this is not so.
If state police decided that they needed to arrest, or even just stop, every driver going over the speed limit, chaos would ensue. Instead, they decide to go after the most egregious offenders when possible with the resources they have available.
But Trump has decided that, as a rule, any unauthorized border-crosser is dangerous and so they all must be locked up. This is absurd and plainly bigoted, and it's not how any other reasonable form of law enforcement works. If you don't have the resources to enforce the law humanely — particularly when the law in question concerns a non-violent offense like crossing the border between points of entry — then you should scale back on enforcement actions. Choosing to continue to lock people up, despite the abysmal conditions and with a presumption that an entire population of people is inherently dangerous, is exactly why the system of concentration camps Dawsey and others have documented is an affront to basic human rights.