Mike Pence Visits Overcrowded and Unsanitary Border Detention Facilities

Vice President and X-Men villain Mike Pence took a trip to Texas on Friday to visit overcrowded and unsanitary migrant detention centers. Pence visited detention centers in McAllen and Donna, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border, as part of a tour to highlight the Trump administration’s handling of immigrants and asylum seekers crossing the border into the United States. The vice president’s trip was a success, as it highlighted the horrific conditions that migrants are being forced to endure and exposed the depths of the Trump Administration’s appalling cruelty toward immigrants.

Pence, accompanied by several Republican senators including Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), visited a facility in McAllen, Texas that housed nearly 400 migrant men in squalid conditions. NBC News reports that the men were detained behind chain-link fencing in overcrowded pens shouting, “No shower, no shower!” at news cameras. The men told members of the press that they had not been given access to showers or toothbrushes for upwards of 20 days. Some of the detained men said they had been at the facility for over 40 days, and others claimed they were underfed and hungry. The reporters that accompanied Pence described the facility as having a “horrendous” smell, and noted that the agents working in the facility wore face masks to block the smells, as well as an extreme heat in the facility.

Members of the press also reported that the nearly 400 men were crammed inside the chain-link pens without beds or cots, being forced to sleep on the concrete floor without pillows or mats. Reporters were told the detainees were not given cots because there was not enough room for them all to lie down. They were instead given thin Mylar blankets, which littered the floors and reflected the facility’s lighting. According to the Washington Post, the only water available to migrants in the sweltering hot facility is kept outside the fences they are kept in, and they need to ask permission from the Border Patrol agents any time they want a drink. “This is tough stuff,” said Pence of the conditions. Conditions that sees hundreds of migrants treated as less than human, as less than animals.

Michael Banks, the patrol agent in charge of the McAllen facility, disputed the descriptions shared by the caged migrants. According to Banks, the men at the facility were allowed to brush their teeth once a day and claimed that the facility had “88,000 toothbrushes”. Banks also disputed the migrants’ claims of being hungry and underfed. He told reporters that all the migrants at the facility receive three hot meals each day, catered from local restaurants. He also claimed that they were given snacks and juice throughout the day. However, the vice president and reporters did not get to witness any of this since they were not at the facility during a mealtime.

The McAllen facility was not the only migrant detention center that Pence visited. During his trip, Pence first visited a facility constructed only months ago in Donna, Texas. Where the detention center in McAllen held single men, the center in Donna held families with children. The facility in Donna was cleaner than the one in McAllen, and had space for cots, a tv with cartoons, and supply rooms stocked with snacks. His tour of the facility in Donna led the vice president to paint a more favorable picture of the treatment of migrants and to make a statement claiming that reports of mistreatment and filthy conditions were slanderous. “The crisis is real,” he said, “But what is not real is the slanderous allegations of heartless mistreatment by Customs and Border Protection”. He went on to say that he “couldn’t be more impressed with the compassionate work that our Customs and Border Protection are doing here at this border facility”. The vice president denounced Democrats for comparing the border facilities with concentration camps, saying that the facility was “providing care that every American would be proud of”.

The vice president later posted photos of his tour of the Donna facility to his Twitter account that painted a more honest picture. In his own photo op, Pence showed children sitting on uncomfortable metal benches, thin mats laid on the floor with foil sheets that children had to share, and perhaps most upsettingly, a young toddler sitting alone and ignored, without any parent to take care of her. This is what the vice president considers “excellent care”.

Pence then went on to contradict his earlier statements after touring the McAllen facility, saying that he saw evidence of a “system that was overwhelmed”. Faced with the undeniable truth of the horrific conditions, Pence changed his stance and instead blamed Democrats in Congress for the situation in these facilities. He argued that these poor conditions exist because the legislative branch has not given the executive branch the funding needed to provide migrants with more hygienic conditions. “But remember for the last six months, Democrats in Congress said it was a manufactured crisis. And it was all we could do to finally get the Democrats in Congress to agree to give us additional funding to deal with this crisis,” Pence told CNN’s Pam Brown. First, he blamed Democrats for exaggerating the conditions and treatments of the migrants in these facilities, claiming that they were receiving excellent care. Then, he blamed Democrats for causing the horrific conditions that he now claims he knew were happening all along and was not surprised to see it.

While the vice president, and President Trump, blame Democrats for this humanitarian crisis, it was the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy that helped create the crisis. Trump, Pence, and their administration are the ones ensuring the system is overwhelmed by detaining migrants and asylum-seekers continuously. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) wrote on Twitter, “[Democrats] are working to expose and stop human rights violations at the border, but everyone needs to know that Pence and Trump are making these problems much worse on purpose. They separate families and detain asylum seekers in huge numbers for political reasons. They could stop it.”

The Trump administration caused this humanitarian crisis and now they’re using it to push hardline policies that would scale the asylum program back and close legal immigration loopholes. Hundreds of people are locked in overcrowded cages and treated worse than zoo animals, and children are being separated from their families and traumatized all for political gain. Trump, Pence, and their administration should feel ashamed, but it’s easy for them to allow these conditions to continue since they view these migrants as being less than human. The Trump administration is a disgrace, and that will be their legacy.

(Image: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/Getty Images)