The Texas/Mexico border sits at the epicenter of our nation’s ongoing fights over immigration. To avoid overlooking the hugely significant news emanating from the region, we’ll periodically round up the stories most worth your attention.
1. Acting Homeland Security Head Disputes Inspector General Report About Migrant Camps
In recent weeks, we began seeing firsthand accounts of the conditions inside the migrant camps along the border—particularly camps in Clint, near El Paso, and Donna, near McAllen. While we’d heard from lawyers who had been granted access in the past, the accounts that came from lawmakers like San Antonio representative Joaquin Castro and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—complete with photos and video—gave us our most detailed look yet.
Here’s another photo from inside taken by @JoaquinCastrotx, where we’re trying to comfort women trapped in cells.
This woman was telling me about her daughters who were taken from her – she doesn’t know where they’ve taken them.
We held & listened to them. They were distraught. pic.twitter.com/ca1GwKfDfU
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 2, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez’s account included disturbing details of the facility in Clint, like women in custody being told to drink from the bowl of a toilet if they were thirsty. On Friday, she took the unusual step of testifying about what she saw under oath, after political opponents (including President Trump) accused her of fabricating those details.
Lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez and Castro are, by the nature of their roles, partisan political figures, though—and in a hyper-polarized climate like the one we live in now, the very fact that they have a “D” next to their name means that there’s a large segment of the country that’s not going to trust their accounts, with or without photos, under oath or not. However, one of the more striking accounts of the camp came from within the administration itself: The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, an internal watchdog within DHS, released photos and a detailed report of the situation in the Donna camp just before the Fourth of July holiday. The report found “dangerous overcrowding,” showed people kept in standing-room only conditions, some of whom indicated that they’d been held for months, and noted thousands of children who’d been detailed for significantly longer than the amount of time legally allowed.
The US Office of the Inspector General just released a report (https://t.co/i14oubA2rn) on the "dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults" in Texas, with these photos: pic.twitter.com/HB8UpgYo1O
— Andrea Woo | 鄔瑞楓 (@AndreaWoo) July 2, 2019
The OIG also inspected the Clint facility that lawmakers had visited, and its findings were similarly damning: 155 men kept in a cell meant for 35 people, with only one toilet or sink, being forced to wear the same soiled clothing for weeks at a time, no beds or soft mats for children to sleep on, and outbreaks of disease.
In an interview with ABC on July 7, though, acting Homeland Security head Kevin McAleenan disputed the reports—even the ones that came from within his own department. McAleenan told ABC that the Clint facility had “adequate” food and water, and that there was sufficient access to showers and clean living spaces. He also claimed that the number of child detainees had been reduced from 2,500 to 350 by the time of his interview. McAleenan’s dispute with two lawmakers, not to mention his own internal watchdog, makes it hard to fully trust his assessment of the situation.
2. Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Includes Immigration Chief
Before the Fourth of July, ProPublica reported a blockbuster story about a private Facebook group where current and former Border Patrol agents shared disturbing memes. The group has more than 9,400 members. While it wasn’t immediately clear how many members were actively serving in the 20,000-person agency, we learned on July 12 that the so-called “I’m 10-15” group included Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.
As reported by The Intercept, Provost’s own posts didn’t include racist and sexist material, which she herself decried as “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see and expect from our agents day in and day out.” But her involvement nonetheless indicates that participation in such a group isn’t just the activity of fringe agents.
The same day that Provost’s participation in the secret Facebook group came to light, Quartz reported the bizarre news that CBP headquarters features a framed photograph of agents, including Provost, with 26-year-old Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren. Lahren favors hardline statements on immigration. Last year, she described a caravan of asylum-seekers as an “invasion by foreigners into their country, people that have no respect for the rule of law, for sovereignty.” The photo suggests that CBP leadership identifies with Lahren’s views.
Hours later, ProPublica published yet another story that further helps us understand the culture of CBP—revealing that agents in both Texas and California had been distributing commemorative-style coins mocking migrant caravans and the agency’s current role in running detention camps. The agency stressed to reporters that the coins weren’t officially sanctioned—a representative compared them to an agent with an off-duty woodworking hobby—but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the difference between CBP’s unofficial culture (the Facebook group racism, the commemorative coins, the Tomi Lahren photo) and its official one (see #1 above).
3. Presidential Hopeful Warren Issues a Warning to Agents
Most candidates in the Democratic primary have announced immigration reform plans that would transform the immigration system. But Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren—one of the party’s frontrunners at this early date—may have been the first to propose that agents who mistreat migrants should be held accountable. One of the planks of Warren’s plan was a clear repudiation of the way border policy is currently enforced, vowing to “create accountability for the abuse perpetrated during the Trump Era.” It included this notable line: “Let there be no ambiguity on this: if you are violating the basic rights of immigrants, now or in the future, a Warren administration will hold you accountable,” and indicated that withholding medical care—a charge that’s been leveled at agents in the past—was the sort of violation she was interested in.
Warren is hardly the only candidate to have an immigration plan that exists to repudiate Trump’s policy. Many of the details of her platform on the issue were cribbed from the campaign of former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, including a proposal to repeal laws that make it a criminal offense for crossing the border without authorization. But Warren’s focus on potential criminal liability for agents who violate the rights of immigrants in their care is a unique proposal with interesting implications. By indicating to agents that, should she become president, Warren would direct the Justice Department to prosecute them criminally for things they’re doing under the Trump administration, it has the possibility to shape the way their actions now, instead of simply signaling legislation she intends to pass.
4. Cornyn and Cuellar Among Top Lawmakers Receiving Private Detention Funds
While it may seem that little about our current immigration policy crosses party lines, here’s one thing that does: donations from a private detention PAC. According to the Washington Post, both GOP senator John Cornyn and Democratic congressman Henry Cueller have received at least $10,000 from the Geo Group, a company that operates 69 facilities across the country. (Twenty-three of the facilities are in Texas as well as the company’s headquarters.) Non-Texans have also received plenty of money from Geo—Trump’s reelection campaign received $20,000—but this rare bipartisanship appears to be a uniquely Texan phenomenon, as Cuellar is the only Democrat identified by the Post as a top recipient of donations.
5. ICE Raids Yet to Materialize in Houston
Trump indicated over the past several weeks that Sunday would be the day that ICE raids started in cities around the country—particularly New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and other large cities with major immigrant populations. But in most cities, those raids have yet to occur. The Texas Tribune quoted HPD chief Art Acevedo as saying, “All quiet in Houston,” adding that he expects only routine enforcement during the week.
The announcement of this action was curious. Trump spent weeks touting the raids, reaffirming on Friday the intention to mobilize the agency as he claimed, “It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out, and they’re going to bring them back to their countries, or they’re going to take criminals out—put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”
Accordingly, neighborhoods with lots of undocumented immigrants were quiet. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Normally bustling streets and shopping centers saw thin crowds as families stayed away from public places in predominately immigrant neighborhoods. Church members noted fewer worshipers in the pews.” The people who remained indoors needn’t have worried about this particular day, as the ACLU reported no raids. But spiking the anxieties of an entire community, and leaving them uncertain of what information to trust, may have been part of the point. Ruby Powers, an immigration attorney quoted by the Chronicle, described the event as a “fear campaign.” If that was the goal, reporting from communities with undocumented members indicates that it probably worked.