WASHINGTON – With television cameras in tow, Vice President Mike Pence toured a pair of Border Patrol facilities in Texas on Friday, encountering at one the foul odor of cages crowded with men, so many that they lacked the space to lie down.
On his first stop, at a processing center for migrants just outside McAllen,Texas, Pence said he “couldn’t be more impressed” by what he described as “the compassionate work” by Border Patrol agents.
“Every family that I spoke with told me they were being well cared for,” he said.
The other stop, at an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station, offered a starkly different picture.
A reporter traveling with Pence described a horrendous stench in the facility and said that nearly 400 men were housed in sweltering cages so crowded it would have been impossible for all of them to lie down. Some of the detainees shouted to reporters that they had been held 40 days or longer and complained that they were hungry.
New video shows severe overcrowding of men in cages at Texas detainment facility during VP Pence's visit Friday.— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 13, 2019
A group of men detained behind chain link fencing shouted to news cameras, "No shower, no shower!" https://t.co/iysmT8IUE1 pic.twitter.com/VF8kUAy94K
“This is tough stuff,” Pence said at a news conference later.
“I was not surprised by what I saw,” he said. “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed.”
The trip to the Texas border by Pence and a group of Republican senators comes amid reports of dangerously overcrowded conditions at some facilities detaining migrants who cross the border illegally. At least six migrant children in border facilities have died since December.
Republicans have pushed back on reports that migrants detained in such centers are being held in deplorable and dangerous conditions.
As Pence was touring the facilities, House Democrats back in Washington were holding a hearing on what they said were inhumane conditions they found when they toured another detention facility in Clint, Texas.
Independent investigators for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security visited Border Patrol facilities in western Texas in May and found dozens of migrants packed into spaces so tight that some had to stand on toilets.
VP saw 384 men sleeping inside fences, on concrete w/no pillows or mats. They said they hadn’t showered in weeks, wanted toothbrushes, food. Stench was overwhelming. CBP said they were fed regularly, could brush daily & recently got access to shower (many hadn’t for 10-20 days.) pic.twitter.com/tHFZYxJF7C— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) July 12, 2019
But the Trump administration and other Republicans have questioned such findings. President Donald Trump said last week that the facilities are “beautifully run.”
Pence said Trump asked him to go to the border – and bring along cameras – so Americans can see for themselves what the facilities are like.
Pence’s first stop was the processing center, an air-conditioned tent complex that opened in early May on the border about 20 miles from McAllen and just yards from an international bridge connecting the United States to Mexico.
The facility is not one of those cited as being chronically overcrowded, but it is where the Homeland Security's inspector general has said migrants are receiving substandard care. About 800 people were being held Friday in the facility, which officials said had a capacity of 1,000.
Inside, Pence approached a woman bouncing a young boy on her lap and asked where she’s from.
“El Salvador,” she said through an interpreter.
“Are you and your children being taken care of here?” Pence asked. “Are they treating you well here? Do you have food?”
The woman nodded her head yes.
Wow this White house pool report from McAllen: "400 men were in caged fences with no cots. The stench was horrendous." pic.twitter.com/zLwzCqR9WG— Jon Passantino (@passantino) July 12, 2019
A reporter traveling with Pence described seeing detainees lying on kindergarten-like napping mats on the floor, covered with a thin tinfoil-like blanket. In one room, the intake facility, a crowd that appeared to be more than 100 people sat on benches. Most appeared dirty, and officials said they were waiting for showers and had been brought in earlier Friday. Some of the children were crying and sleeping.
Regardless, “what we saw today is a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of,” Pence said later at a roundtable discussion that included Border Patrol officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Pence got a different view when he went briefly into the sweltering, crowded outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station.
Agents guarding the cages were wearing face masks. Some detainees complained of hunger and said they wanted to brush their teeth.
Vice President Mike Pence taking in the scene at McAllen Border Patrol Station as hundreds of migrant detainees are held behind a chain-linked fence. pic.twitter.com/OHyjAii3g8— Mariam Khan (@MKhan47) July 13, 2019
Michael Banks, the Border Patrol agent in charge, disputed some of the men’s claims that they had been held 40 days. The longest any detainee has been held at the center was 32 days, he said.
The facility is cleaned three times a day, Banks said, but he conceded that many of the men had not showered for 10 or 20 days because the facility previously didn’t have showers. A trailer shower arrived Thursday, he said.
The men are allowed to brush their teeth once a day, he said, adding: “We currently have 88,000 toothbrushes.”
The scene in McAllen (single adults) stands in stark contrast to what we saw at a processing facility in Donna (families with children) - space for cots, tv with cartoons, supply rooms stocked with snacks pic.twitter.com/DNSSeRJAK7— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) July 13, 2019
Slamming Democrats who have called the situation on the border “a manufactured crisis,” Pence said the U.S. has "a moral obligation" to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws that he said are exacerbating the problem.
“The facts are, we have a crisis on our southern border that is being driven by human traffickers who are exploiting loopholes in American law to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous journey north,” he said.
Pence called for Democrats to fund more Immigration and Customs Enforcement beds and said he had pushed for more Department of Homeland Security spending because of the situation, including a $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package that he negotiated.
"The crisis is real," he said. "This is not a manufactured crisis."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence says 'the crisis is real' after visiting detention facilities