Mike Pence says he'll bring TV cameras on tour of border facility as lawmakers voice alarm at conditions

Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is vowing to bring cameras along on Friday when he visits a Border Patrol facility in Texas, which he described as "overwhelmed and overflowing."

"We're going to let people see the facility – a facility that is providing care, providing hygiene, providing healthcare and support," Pence said Wednesday. "But we're also going to see a system that is overwhelmed." 

When Democratic lawmakers toured Border Patrol facilities earlier this month, they were asked to turn over their phones and any other recording devices. But Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, defied the request and later posted video he took on his phone of the crowded conditions at a center in El Paso.

The deaths of migrant children in border detention centers and reports of dangerously overcrowded conditions have sparked an outcry. The Democratic-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee is holding a hearing on the issue on Friday, the same day that Pence will be traveling to McAllen, Texas, to tour a detention facility.

While Democrats have lambasted the administration over the treatment of migrants, Pence accused them of initially denying there was a crisis at the border and then delaying additional funding for the detention facilities facing an unprecedented flow of migrants from Central America.

"We’re going to lean into this crisis," the vice president said.

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Pence criticized lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who have compared the detention facilities to concentration camps.

"It is really contemptible that some in Congress have referred to U.S. detention facilities as concentration camps,” Pence said. “That's an outrage. The Nazis killed people. Our Customs and Border Protection personnel save lives every day."

Vice President Mike Pence waves to the crowd as he approaches the podium at JLS Automation in Springettsbury Township to talk about the president’s proposed trade plans, June 6, 2019.

Pence’s trip to the border comes as the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was planning to arrest thousands of undocumented immigrants in raids to begin Sunday. President Donald Trump announced plans for massive raids last month and then said he would delay the action for a couple of weeks.

The arrests could exacerbate overcrowding at detention centers at a time when lawmakers are expressing increasing alarm over the conditions.

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An inspector general's report released last week described the conditions at detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley as “a ticking time bomb." And underage migrants held at the Border Patrol's holding facilities in Arizona have reported poor conditions, as well as allegations of misconduct and even sexual assault at the hands of U.S. border agents, NBC News reported Tuesday.

After visiting five facilities in June, an inspector general report described dangerous overcrowding. Pictures in the report showed migrants crowded behind chain-link fences in a McAllen, Texas, facility or huddling under blankets on the floor. 

The United Nations’ human rights chief said Monday she was “appalled” by the conditions migrants and refugees face in U.S. detention facilities.

Six migrant children have died in federal detention since December, Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said at a Wednesday House hearing at which a migrant mother described the death of her daughter who developed a viral respiratory infection during three weeks of detention.

After Democratic members of Congress and the Texas Legislature visited a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, earlier this month, they called the conditions they saw inhumane.

Pence said the detention centers are overwhelmed because “our system was simply never designed to deal with this.”

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But Pence and his aides have pushed back on some of Democrats' descriptions of the facilities, particularly the comparison to concentration camps.

"There's just been such a gross mischaracterization of what's happening," Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, told FOX Business Network’s Mornings with Maria on Wednesday.

Short said that during his visit to the border, Pence is going to "really highlight what is happening inside" the detention centers because “the comparisons and the rhetoric is just absolutely absurd."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence says he'll bring TV cameras on tour of border facility as lawmakers voice alarm at conditions