Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sharply criticized the conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention camps, stating that migrants were subject to “systemic cruelty.”
“Just left the 1st CBP facility,” the New York congresswoman wrote on Twitter. “I see why CBP officers were being so physically &sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress.”
On Monday, ProPublica published messages from a Facebook group of roughly members, including current and former Border Patrol agents, named “I’m 10-15,” a reference to the agency’s code for “aliens in custody.” Among the messages were jokes about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in Border Patrol custody in May and sexist references to Ocasio-Cortez, including illustrations of her performing oral sex on migrants and President Trump.
The group, Ocasio-Cortez said, also suggested raising money for an agent to throw a burrito at her and Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents the El Paso, Texas, area. The two freshmen congresswomen were among a delegation visiting the border on Monday.
“Now I’ve seen the inside of these facilities,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “It’s not just the kids. It’s everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members Congress. I brought it up to their superiors. They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.”
“After I forced myself into a cell w/ women&began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ - waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Tell me what about that is due to a ‘lack of funding?’ Now I’m on my way to Clint, where the Trump admin was denying children toothpaste and soap. This has been horrifying so far. It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem. We’re talking systemic cruelty w/ a dehumanizing culture that treats them like animals.”
"There's abuse in these facilities,” said Ocasio-Cortez to reporters outside the facility. “There's abuse. This is them on their best behavior, and they put them in a room with no running water and these women were being told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet. They were drinking water out of the toilet, and that was them knowing a congressional visit was coming. This is CBP on their best behavior, telling people to drink out of the toilet."
Hours later, Ocasio-Cortez said that the detained migrants she had spoken to believed they now faced punishment for speaking with her.
“What’s haunting is that the women I met with today told me in no uncertain terms that they would experience retribution for telling us what they shared,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “They all began sobbing - out of fear of being punished, out of sickness, out of desperation, lack of sleep, trauma, despair.”
Other members of the delegation concurred with Ocasio-Cortez’s description of the conditions in the detention camps.
“We can't just focus on the children anymore,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. “I met grandmothers, mothers and fathers who are suffering. This is devastating. The look in one father's eyes broke me. I can't look away.”
"‘If you want water, just drink from a toilet,’" wrote Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. “That's what border patrol told one thirsty woman we met on today's #DemsAtTheBorder trip. These are the same CBP personnel who threatened to throw burritos at members of Congress. Changes must be made.”
“Just left the first CBP facility,” tweeted Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. “The conditions are far worse than we ever could have imagined. 15 women in their 50s- 60s sleeping in a small concrete cell, no running water. Weeks without showers. All of them separated from their families. This is a human rights crisis. We were met with hostility from the guards, but this is nothing compared to their treatment of the people being held. The detainees are constantly abused and verbally harassed with no cause. Deprived physically and dehumanized mentally - everyday. This is a human rights issue.”
Conditions at the border detention camps have continued to draw scrutiny. On Monday, NBC News reported that a Department of Homeland Security document revealed that agents were arming themselves out of fear of riots because the conditions were so bad. Over the weekend, a federal judge ordered that doctors be allowed into child migrant camps in order to ensure they were “safe and sanitary” after multiple reports of young migrants being unable to shower, brush their teeth or wash their hands. Acting CBP chief John Sanders announced last week he was resigning, making no mention of the conditions at the facilities.
“It just felt, you know, lawless,” Dolly Lucio Sevier, a doctor who visited the centers, said in an interview with ABC News last week. “I mean, imagine your own children there. I can’t imagine my child being there and not being broken.”
Earlier in the day, Ocasio-Cortez criticized CBP for having a “violent culture.”
“This just broke: a secret Facebook group of 9,500 CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers discussed making a GoFundMe for officers to harm myself & Rep. Escobar during our visit to CBP facilities & mocked migrant deaths,” she wrote on Twitter, linking to the story. “This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs.’ This is a violent culture.”
“9,500 CBP officers sharing memes about dead migrants and discussing violence and sexual misconduct towards members of Congress,” added Ocasio-Cortez. “How on earth can CBP’s culture be trusted to care for refugees humanely? PS I have no plans to change my itinerary & will visit the CBP station today.”
Ocasio-Cortez repeatedly made the point Monday that the views expressed by members of the secret Facebook group were indicative of a larger problem at CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol.
“There are 20,000 TOTAL Customs & Border Patrol agents in the US. 9,500 - almost HALF that number - are in a racist & sexually violent secret CBP Facebook group,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “They’re threatening violence on members of Congress. How do you think they’re treating caged children+families?”
In May, the Arizona Daily Star reported that a Border Patrol agent who is accused of knocking down a Guatemalan man with his vehicle allegedly sent text messages that included references to migrants as “disgusting subhuman s--- unworthy of being kindling for a fire” and that asked the White House to “PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!”
ProPublica later reported that the CBP was going to investigate members of the group, stating, "Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable."
Ocasio-Cortez was criticized last month by Republican members of Congress for calling the facilities “concentration camps,” although a number of experts and historians agreed with her classification. On June 22, the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board published an op-ed entitled “Yes, we do have concentration camps.”
In a call last week, a CBP official disputed the critical accounts and said the children housed there were given periodic access to showers and unlimited snacks.
“I personally don’t believe these allegations,” said the CBP official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, according to the New York Times.
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