U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is receiving backlash from Democrats after his visit to migrant detention centres in Texas.
On Friday, Pence toured two Texas migrant detention centres, one in Donna, the other in McAllen.
One moment captured by news cameras during the visit shows Pence face-to-face with migrants detained behind chain-link fencing in a crowded cell.
In the short video clip, migrants can be heard yelling and attempting to talk to Pence while he looks on for approximately a minute, before turning his back to leave.
The clip has created a firestorm on social media, with some claiming Pence acted callously.
On Saturday, several Democrats took to Twitter to share their frustration.
“Heaven forbid he speak to the men he is keeping in cages,” Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III tweeted. “Heaven forbid he look any one of them in the eye.”
2020 Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke also tweeted Saturday.
“Human beings locked in crowded cages not even allowed to shower. This is how we treat asylum seekers and refugees when @VP and reporters are visiting. When the cameras are off, it’s even worse,” he wrote. “This will define us as a country — until we stand up and change it.”
“Make no mistake, @VP, this is the result of your administration slashing aid to Central America and undermining the asylum process,” Mayor of San Antonio and 2020 Democratic Candidate, Julian Castro wrote.
“You and Donald Trump share the blame.”
“Humane and compassionate care”
The facility in Donna was holding approximately 800 migrants at the time of Pence’s visit.
While Pence toured the building, people were seen lying on the ground on mats, covering themselves with tinfoil blankets. Children watched a movie in a separate room.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with the compassionate work that our Customs and Border Protection are doing here at this border facility,” Pence said.
In a tweet following his visit, Pence said U.S. Customs and Border Protection was providing “humane and compassionate care.”
In the McAllen facility, 384 men were held behind fences, packed so tightly reporters on the tour claimed there was not enough room for all of them to lay down.
The men did not have mats or pillows and some were seen sleeping on the concrete, NBC News reported.
According to NBC News, when the migrant men saw the news camera, they began yelling, “No shower, no shower.”
A patrol agent told reporters some of the men there hadn’t showered for as many as 20 days because the facility didn’t have showers — though it did on Friday.
Reporters described the facility as smelling “horrendous.”
“I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed,” Pence told reporters after touring the facility. “This is tough stuff.”
He said what he saw in McAllen was a “prime example” of why the U.S. needs to secure its borders.
“The facility is overcrowded and our system is overwhelmed,” Pence wrote on Twitter. “It is time for Democrats in Congress to step up, do their jobs, and end this crisis.”
On July 1, several U.S. lawmakers including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toured a border patrol facility in El Paso, Texas.
Following the visit, Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter, saying she spoke to women in cells who told her the didn’t have any water and had been told to drink out of toilets.
“After I forced myself into a cell w/ women&began speaking to them, one of the described their treatment at the hands of officers as “psychological warfare,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
She said what she witnessed was “horrifying.”
“This has been horrifying so far,” she wrote. “It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem. We’re talking systematic cruelty w/a dehumanizing culture that treats them like animals.”
A ‘ticking time bomb’
A report released on July 2 by the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog provided details about “serious overcrowding” at another border facility in Rio Grande Valley.
The report subsequently found children at three facilities did not have access to showers, and said some children under the age of seven had been held in cramped centres for more than two weeks.
Some cells were so crowded that adults were forced to stand for days on end.
Government inspectors said the situation was increasingly dangerous for both migrants and border agents.
One facility manager called the situation a “ticking time bomb.”
Border aid bill
Earlier this month, U.S. president Donald Trump signed a $4.6-billion aid package to bolster the care of migrants at the border.
Many Democratic lawmakers were unhappy with the bill and had been pushing for stronger protections for how migrants are treated at the facilities, and to make it easier for lawmakers to make visits.
However, after the White House threatened to veto the legislation, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to accept the Republican-controlled Senate version of the aid package.
— With files from Jesse Ferreras and the Associated Press
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